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Full text of "A wandering star"

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A WAN DK RING STAR 



A WANDERING STAR 



BY 



Lady FAIRLIE CUNINGHAME 

AUTHOR OF 
" THE SLAVE OF HIS WILL," ETC 



IN THREE VOLUMES 



VOL. IL 



Eontion 
WARD AND DOWNEY 

12, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN 

1892 



LONDON : 
PRINTED BY WOODFALL AND KINDER, 

70 TO 76, LONG ACRE, W.C. 



F /i // 



A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER I. 



There Is many a country gentleman who, 
even though his heart may be In the right 
place, as Far as sport is concerned, still 
thinks a meet of hounds on his lawn 
an unmitigated nuisance. Not so Mr. 
Mossop ! Although no lawn within a radius 
of twenty miles resembled velvet so closely as 
his own — though no avenues were so care- 
fully weeded, swept, gravelled, and pebbled 
at the edges — though It was popularly 
believed that there was a man told off to 
pick up every dead leaf as it fell from the 
winter bough, and though a spic-and-span 
neatness was his particular hobby — he always 

VOL. II. B 



2 A WANDERING STAR. 

received the intimation that the hounds 
would meet at The Towers with pride and 
pleasure. He did not mind the hoof-marks 
on his carefully-attended turf, or the cutting- 
up of the gravel by endless carriage-wheels, 
or the presence of the rag-tag and bob-tail 
inside his usually hermetically-sealed park- 
gates. He did not grudge the great pre- 
parations for a huge hunt breakfast that no 
one wanted to eat, or a still more elaborate 
luncheon that none of the real hunting- 
people would be at hand to partake of All 
this was to him as nothing as long as an 
account of the Meet of Lord Gornaway's 
hounds at The Towers was duly chronicled in 
the Field and the county papers, and the 
hospitality and magnificence of its owner 
duly enlarged on in them. 

He was a hunting man himself; that is to 
say, he wore immaculate buckskins from 
Bartley, and top-boots from Tautz, and a red 
coat that always looked as if it had been put 
on for the first time ; his horses never cost 
him less than three or four hundred guineas, 
and he would not have thought his neck safe 



A WANDERING STAR; % 



KJ ■ 



on- anything less expensive. He "preserved 
foxes with jealous care, and v/as a larger 
subscriber to the Covert Fund than any 
other man In Blankshlre. 

If all this constitutes a sportsman then he 
was one, and as the rapture of the chase, or- 
any kind of pleasure to be got out of gallop- 
ing or jumping was utterly unknown to him, 
he should be commended rather than con- 
demned for so much public spirit. He never 
jumped a fence w^hen It could be avoided, 
never let his horse gallop except along the 
hard high road, and never knew a moment's 
happiness out hunting, except at the close 
of the day of the last — the very last — meet 
of the season, when he and his hunter 
were slowly jogging home. Even then the 
thought would come across his mind and 
rob him of all peace and comfort when he 
reflected that there might still be another bye- 
day or two before he could congratulate 
himself that he had got through the season 
in safety, and that there would be no more 
risks to run for another six months at least. 

The season is now drawing to its 

B 2 



4 A WANDERING STAR. 

close, and about ten days after he had 
walked home from church with Vega 
Fitzpatrick the hounds are advertised to 
meet at The Towers. 

Mr. Mossop has, some days before, sent 
over the following note to Colonel Damer 
by special messenger : — 

" My dear Damer, — 

" I suppose it is useless to ask you and Lady Julia 
to give me the pleasure of your company at my hunt 
breakfast at The Towers on the 22nd, for you never 
will come. No people would be more welcome, and I 
hope, at any rate, that, if in our direction about luncheon 
time, you will honour my poor board. I am now writing 
to beg the non-hunting members of your party to drive 
over to the meet, and to promise that after seeing all 
they can see they will make a point of coming back to 
The Towers for luncheon. I shall be much gratified if 
Lady Hermione and her daughters, and Miss Fitz- 
patrick can be induced to do as much. The Towers 
are but bachelors' quarters, but we will do our very best, 
and will pay them every attention. — Yours, 

"Albert Mossop." 

" There, Hermione," says the Colonel, 
handing her the note, which has arrived in 
the middle of dinner, ** what do you say to 



A WANDERING STAR. 5 

that ? Do you feel disposed to honour 
Mossop's poor board, which I may as well tell 
you will be literally groaning with good 
things ? If so, I can send you all over in 
the waggonette. You had better go. It 
will be some fun for the girls." 

'' I hate hunting on wheels," says Lady 
Hermione, tartly. She had In her day 
ridden to hounds as straight as Lady 
Julia herself, and even now she does not 
fancy being relegated to a waggonette as a 
chaperone to three girls ; " but," and here 
she remembers her forlorn hope in regard to 
Dottle, *' Mr. Mossop would be disap- 
pointed, I suppose, if w^e refused him ; we 
may just as well go." 

" Welcome to The Towers, Lady Her- 
mione," says Mr. Mossop, from his own 
hospitable doorstep, as the Conholt waggon- 
ette drives up to it on the morning of the 
meet. His greeting of welcome is spoken 
to Lady Hermione, but his eyes are greedily 
devouring every line of Vega's fair face, to 
which the boisterous March wind has 
brought a lovely colour, and whose eyes are 



6 A WANDERING STAR. 

bright with youthful pleasure and excite- 
ment as they look eagerly on a scene so 
hew to them. She takes In neither Mr. 
Mossop nor his castle, for one Is of as little 
interest to her as the other, but the anima- 
tion and bustle around her fills her with 
delight. 

The hounds are grouped on the lawn, with 
the huntsman In their midst ; he Is old, 
wizened, and wiry, but full of importance, 
which Is natural in one who firmly believes 
that there Is no prouder position on earth 
than that of huntsman to Lord Gornaway's 
hounds ; the whips, young, slim and alert — • 
the long lashes of their stout hunting crops, 
ever ready to keep any stray hound within 
bounds, or to repress any riot In the pack — 
are close at hand ; while the gravelled court 
is as crowded as Hyde Park Corner in the 
height of the season. 

Everything that runs on wheels is here 
represented, from the four-in-hand drawn up 
on one side, that has brought a strong 
detachment of the Dancing Hussars from 
the Barracks at Grimthorpe, down to the 



A WANDERING STAR. 7 

basket-cart drawn by a stout white pony, in 
which the Vicar's daughters, two bouncing 
young women with red cheeks, mean to see 
as much of the fun as possible. 

There are large barouches, full of impor- 
tant-looking ladies, half buried in furs and 
velvet, and there are small broughams con- 
taining smart young men in red coats, and 
pretty women in habits, who evidently mean 
to be comfortable as long as they can ; there 
are high dog-carts, from which descend 
gingerly men, who wear long coats and 
white linen aprons ; and there are Grim- 
thorpe flies, which have brought from the 
station those who have been obliged to come 
by rail. 

Hunters are being led up and down by 
smart grooms ; ladies are being " put up " ; 
some of the horses are a trifle too fresh, and 
are kicking and plunging about in an uncom- 
fortable sort of wav, and the March sun 
shines on, and brightens up, a scene that 
can be seen in England, and in England 
alone. . - 

No wonder that Vega Fitzpatrick does not 



8 A WANDERING STAR. 

take stock of The Towers or its owner. 
The former Is a castle Indeed, but a brand 
new one. 

The mellowing hand of Time has not 
subdued the bright red of the walls, or the 
white of the stonework that surrounds 
windows and doors, and, as It were, trims the 
whole. It has planted no moss in crevice 
or cranny, has softened down no hard edges, 
hung no garlands of Ivy on the bare walls. 

Everything Is bright and shining, and new 
and glaring ; the plate-glass windows glow in 
the sun, and the flag, from the topmost 
tower, which waves proudly in the breeze 
whenever the lord and master is at home, 
seems newer, and to boast braver colours 
than ever did buntlnof before. 

There Is no denying that it is a well-built 
and handsome house, and Its architect may 
be congratulated. Inasmuch as he has made a 
servile copy in bright colours of a mediaeval 
castle ; but it does not look like the home of 
a race, nor is it possible that romance or 
sentiment can, for many a long year to 
come, cling round Its walls. 



A WANDERING STAR. 9 

Lord Gornaway's arrival, in a mail 
phaeton, means business, and very soon the 
mob of horsemen and horsewomen, the long 
string of carriages, and a certain number of 
camp followers, in the shape of men and 
boys, who mean to see as much of the fun as 
possible on foot, stretch in a thick, unbroken 
line down the well-kept avenue in the 
direction of the first draw. 

'' You must promise faithfully to come 
back to luncheon. Lady Hermione," says Mr. 
Mossop, anxiously. *' I shall be very much 
disappointed if you fail me. If there's no- 
thing much doing, and we're at all near, I 
shall be sure to be back to do the honours 
myself. It's a bargain, is it not ?" 

Lady Hermione, who had never intended 
to do anything else, makes a favour of it. 
** Oh ! yes, we shall try and get back, but 
pray don't let us be in your way. We had 
much better leave it an open question, and 
see where we find ourselves." 

"No, no, Lady Hermione, that won't do 
at all ; " and Mr. Mossop is weak enough to 
entreat her abjectly. " You'll be sick of 



lO A WANDERING STAR. 

driving after the hounds in an hour or two, and 
then you must most certainly come back." 

For all answer she waves her hand, and 
puts up her eyeglass to get a comprehensive 
view of what is going on. But she is better 
than her word, for after an hour or two of 
fast but fruitless driving in the vain hope of 
seeing something of the hunt that has swept 
far away from the people on the hard high 
road, they return to The Towers, to find its 
master once more at the doorstep, just 
getting off an animal who looks as fresh and 
with as little marks of hard work about him 
as his rider. 

" I lost a shoe," says Mr. Mossop, to ex- 
cuse himself (it would be curious to count 
the number of shoes Mr. Mossop's horses 
are credited with losing in the course of th^ 
hunting season !) and I thought I might as 
well come home at once. I couldn't find my 
second horseman anywhere, and it wasn't 
worth while laming my horse by trying to 
find him. They were doing nothing either. 
The hounds won't run a yard to-day, and I 
shan't lose anything if I don't pick • them up 



A WANDERING STAR. I I 

for an hour or so. Now, Lady Hermlone, 
you must be cold and half-starved ... let 
me help you ; " but Mr. Mossop is not as 
good as his word, for it falls to an important- 
looking butler, assisted by two tall powdered 
footmen, to take the long fur cloak off Lady 
Hermione's handsome shoulders, and the 
rough plaids that wrap her daughters' insigni- 
ficant forms, while Mr. Mossop — his fat 
pudgy fingers trembling with excitement — 
actually has the joy of fumbling for the pin 
that fastens a poor little Shetland shawl 
under Vega's white chin." 

He finds it at last, but her soft breath on 
his elderly cheek, and the joy of touching 
• — though only as a servant might — her slim 
body, seems to make him lose his head, and 
he positively trembles before her. 

" Come on, Vega, how slow you are ! " says 
Lady Hermione, disagreeably, and they walk 
up the hall together. If the outside of The 
Towers is the model of everything that is 
right, fitting, and proper in the eyes of the 
architect who designed and built that pinch- 
beck castle, its interior might correctly be 



12 A WANDERING STAR. 

described as the upholsterer's joy. The for- 
tunate man, to whom carte blanche had been 
given " to do the thing properly," had been 
trammelled by no fancies or '' fads " on the 
part of its owner, for Mr. Mossop was a 
perfect cipher from the decorators' point of 
view. The master of The Towers had no 
taste at all — good, bad, or indifferent — be- 
lieved blindly all he was told, was far too 
timid to hazard an opinion, and when he 
paid without a murmur the longest bill that 
even Messrs. Dado, Frieze and Co. had ever 
managed to run up, their admiration of his 
behaviour was unbounded. 

" We don't want no interference on the 
part of them as knows nothing about our 
business," were the words of one of the 
head men who had spent nearly a year at 
The Towers, while the great work of fur- 
nishing had been going on. "What can 
gentlemen and ladies show ms, as has been 
at the work all our lives ? When gentlemen 
comes a-shovin' In their oars, Lard ! there's 
the devil to pay ! They either knows 
nothing at all of what they are talking about, 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 3 

or they have the rummiest notions got out 
o' a book — notions that won't wash, and 
that no workman that ever I saw could 
make head or tail of. And as for the ladies, 
they don't know what they want themselves ; 
they never can make up their minds for two 
minutes together. What we puts up for them 
one day, we tears down the next, and they're 
always in such a doose of a hurry too. It's 
' This must be done in a month, Mr. Grieves,' 
or, ' I must be into the droring-room when . 
we comes down from town ' — talk — talk — 
nag — nag — keeping us back, and wasting all 
our time, and when they've any hand in pay- 
ing the bills, then you finds out what they 
are ! There's nothing like a woman for 
meanness ! No ! indeed ! give me a plain 
gentleman like Mr. Mossop, who knows 
nothing, and knows that he knows nothing. 
Which of 'em gets their work done best in 
the end, I should like to know ? " There is 
this much to be said in favour of Mr. 
Grieves' opinions, that though everything in 
the h'ouse is a copy of something else, many 
of these copies are nearly as good as the 



14 A WANDERING STAR. 

originals, and the most captious critic would 
fail to discover any anachronisms that had 
crept into the different styles. The entrance 
hall is Early English, and Early English 
down to the most minute details ; never was 
there a room more thoroughly Renaissance 
than is the lofty, gloomy dining-room ; while 
the '' Versells Gallery," as Mr. Grieves was in 
the habit of calling the huge double drawing- 
rooms, Is Louis XVI., in its severest form. 

Watteau-like ladles in hoops and sacques, 
with courtly gentlemen in velvet coats, silk 
stockings, and high-heeled, diamond-buckled 
shoes, to kiss their hands, or to be their 
partners In gavotte, or stately minuet, would 
seem far more at home among all this gilded 
and formal splendour than Mr. Mossop and 
his friends! The celling, one mass of gold 
save where rosy cherubs sprawl on cloudless 
skies — the walls, half panel, half brocade — 
the draperies of gorgeous satin — the huge 
sofas with woodwork which, though severe 
In style, is all gilding together, the "Trianong 
suite " (to quote Mr. Grieves once more ! ) 
which could hardly be told from the models 



A WANDERING STAR; 1 5 

of elegance by the master-hand of RIasener/ 
once the property of those 

" Whose grandsires all earth's greatest were 
In grandeur, when the grand were great ; " 

all this magnificence is worthy of a different 
abode than The Towers, and a different 
owner than Mr. Mossop. 

What would have been grand elsewhere, 
becomes formal here. What would be gor- 
geous in a palace, is vulgar in the brand-new 
house of the rich brewer. 

Large fires are burning in the " Versells 
Gallery," but otherwise there is no sign that 
it is ever inhabited ; and indeed it never is, 
for Mr. Mossop has a snuggery of his own, 
and no mortal man could be expected to 
make himself comfortable on a Louis Seize 
sofa covered with the palest pink satin, on 
which twine exquisite garlands of fiowers 
that look as if they were painted. No book 
— not even the Peerage — lies on the Trianon- 
tables — no newspapers or magazines make 
a pleasant litter anywhere. There are mag- 
nificent fiower-vases, but no flowers are in 



1 6 A WANDERING STAR. 

them, and the " occasional " tables are bare, 
as if they still stood in the show-rooms of 
Messrs. Dado and Frieze. 

Lady Hermione sweeps up the splendid 
room and takes possession of a great gilded 
arm-chair near the fireplace. 

" This is a magnificent room certainly, Mr. 
Mossop," she says, looking round, her prac- 
tised eye taking stock of everything great 
or small. 

**I am glad you like it, Lady Hermione," 
Mr. Mossop answers, looking about him in 
a deprecating manner ; " and I must say 
I think Dado and Frieze have done the 
thing in first-rate style. I did not limit 
them in any way, and they have cer- 
tainly made a very good job of it. They 
sent me in a swingeing bill for it all ; but, 
after all, I have got my money's worth, for 
it couldn't be handsomer in its own line. 
Plenty of gilding and glass — just the thing 
I like ! I believe they call it Louis the 
something or other, but I get confused 
among all these Louises. I never can re~ 
member which is which. I only know that 



A WANDERING STAR. I 7 

one style is all curls and twirls, and the 
other has straight lines and everything at 
right-angles, like what we have got here. 'You 
pays your money and you takes your choice.' 
Do you see those tables and things bound in 
brass ? They are copied from a suite of fur- 
niture that was sold out of a duke's palace 
for no less than ^14,000. The people who 
gave that price for them must have had very 
little to do with their money. I didn't pay 
a tenth — no, nor a twentieth part of that sum 
for these things, and if you saw them side 
by side with the originals you couldn't tell 
which was which. Come and take a look at 
the conservatory now." And he leads his 
guests pnce more down the room to the 
large glass-doors that open on a wealth of 
flowers, shadowed by slender palms and 
luxuriant treeferns, and which have for 
background a hedge of camellias in full 
bloom and orange-trees covered with green 
fruit. Vega is delighted with the flowers 
and with the sweet smell of hyacinth and 
lily-of-the-valley and fragrant narcissus. She 
buries her pretty nose in each of them by 

VOL. II. c 



1 8 A WANDERING STAR. 

turn, and flits like a bird on the wing from 
flower to flower. " This is meant for a- 
boudoir," says Mr. Mossop, as he opens 
another door that also gives on the con- 
servatory, and takes her into an unfurnished 
room of pretty proportions, on whose walls 
are fluted the palest blue satin, and the 
uprights of whose mantelpiece are beautiful 
cupids in white Carrara marble. " What do 
you think of it, Miss Fitzpatrick ? It is 
begun well, isn't it ? There was no good in 
going on with it. We poor bachelors don't 
want boudoirs, and I thought it the best 
plan to let the furnishing stand over till 
The Towers had a mistress. Ladies have 
their own fancies about all that. How do 
yoti think it should be done up ? " 

There is a certain amount of meaning in 
his words, but neither voice nor eye are 
good interpreters for him, and from neither 
the one nor the other does Vega learn what 
he would fain convey to her mind. " Oh, I 
don't know anything about furnishing," she 
answers lightly. '' You must ask some one 
wiser than me. You know I am not accus- 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 9 

tomed to splendour. I only know that 
everything is very, very pretty here." 

" I am very glad to hear you say so," says 
Mr. Mossop, a gratified smile stealing over his 
heavy countenance as he speaks. '' There 
has certainly been no expense spared, and it 
ought to be good, at any rate. This is the 
only room in the house that has been left 
unfurnished, and I hope it won't long re- 
main so." 

There is still more meaning in his voice 
now, but Vega is deaf to it. 

She feels utterly indifferent, both as re- 
gards the future owner of the room and its 
furniture. 

" Happy the lady as sits in that boudore," 
were Mr. Grieves' words of blessing as he 
took his leave of The Towers after his year's 
sojourn, and there is one thing certain — 
that no one up to the present moment has 
so nearly attained that proud position as this 
young girl, who, in somewhat shabby black, 
now looks around her with such an in- 
different eye. 

'' We are starving, Mr. Mossop," breaks 

C 2 



20 A WANDERING STAR. 

in Lady Hermione, abruptly. *' Is there no 
chance of kmcheon ? We mustn't keep the 
horses out all day." 

*' Oh ! I beg your pardon ! — I beg ten 
thousand pardons," says Mr. Mossop, much 
upset at the idea of having failed in his 
duties as host. '' Let me show you the way, 
Lady Hermione. I know it must be quite 
ready by this time." 

The long table in the Renaissance dining- 
room is positively laden with dainties. Pre- 
parations have been made on a large scale 
en the off-chance of Lord Gornaway and 
the rest of the field being near The Towers 
about luncheon time. Mr. Mossop, to do 
him justice, is most hospitably-minded, and 
on an occasion like the present he only errs 
by an excess. 

On the table, and on half a dozen sideboards 
and smaller tables, there is enough food for 
a regiment, and turkeys, rounds of beef, and 
great pies are flanked by lobsters, cray-fish, 
pdtd de foie gTas, caviare, and everything that 
could stimulate a far more jaded appetite than 
is usually possessed by a fox-hunting squire. 



A WANDERING STAR. 21 

Mr. Mossop presses them to eat and 
drink, yea, to drink champagne abundantly, 
and is positively hurt at their modera- 
tion ! Lady Hermione, however, partakes 
of many dainties, reserving to herself, at the 
same time, the right of finding fault with 
everything as soon as she gets home. 
Vega's pretty face is nearly hid behind 
a huge boars head, which seems brighter 
and shinier than was ever such a head before, 
and whose white tusks bite the largest lemon 
that ever hung on bough ! Pussie munches 
on in silence, and Dottie makes such play 
with some 7narrons glacds that Mr. Mos- 
sop insists on sending to the housekeeper 
for a large box of the dainty for her to take 
home with her ! 

" There is evidently no one else coming," 
says Mr. Mossop in a tone of the deepest 
disappointment, as his eyes turn for about the 
twentieth time in the direction of the huge 
bow window. "It is always the way. When 
one is ready for them, not a soul comes, and 
if there was nothing prepared, the whole 
field would be on us. Do have one more 



2 2 A WANDERING STAR. 

foie g7'as sandwich, Lady Hermione. My 
chef makes them very nicely ; and, Miss 
FItzpatrIck, you are eating nothing, abso- 
lutely nothing ! Let me give you one of 
these surprise things, half Ice, half hot 
chocolate ; they are rather good, for those 
who like sweets, and my chef Is quite famous 
for them." 

'' As If one had never tasted food that was 
cooked by a Frenchman before," thinks Lady 
Hermione, contemptuously, to herself; ''but 
the swagger of a noiiveati riche is simply 
appalling.'' 

'' Now, Lady Hermione, If It Is agreeable 
to you," says her host, '' I vote we have our 
coffee In the hall, and then the young ladles 
shall have some music. I am sure they 
would like to hear my new Orchestrion. It 
has just come down from town, and though 
I say it as shouldn't, It ought to be a good 
one, for It cost me no less than six hundred 
golden sovereigns. It has any number of 
tunes, and when I want a change, all I have 
got to do is to send up ^50 and get a new 
barrel." He leads the way to the hall, where 



A WANDERING STAR. 23 

the huge Orchestrion stands on one side of 
the tasteless heavy wooden erection that 
flanks the fireplace, and which Messrs. Dado 
and Frieze have told Mr. Mossop is the 
finest copy of an Early English inglenook 
that has ever been carved and pieced to- 
gether. 

A procession of servants enter the hall, 
bearing Turkish coffee, as well as that which 
usually suf^ces for ordinary mortals, followed 
by two or three different kinds of liqueurs, 
and liqueur glasses in embossed silver cases ; 
the rear is brought up by the tallest of 
the powdered footmen, who staggers under 
the weight of a huge cylinder for the 
Orchestrion. 

" This is my last little extravagance," says 
Mr. Mossop, proudly. " I hope you will 
approve. Miss Fitzpatrick. For my part, I 
think there is no music like It. Now you 
shall hear how well some of the tunes that 
one knows sound on it," and in a few 
mxinutes the Orchestrion has it all Its own 
way, for the noise made by that instrument, 
half barrel organ, half German band, un- 



24 A WANDERING STAR. 

modulated by distance, drowns the human 
voice entirely. 

The time It keeps Is good — the phrasing- 
perfection, but the noise made can hardly 
be dignified by the name of music ! It Is 
mechanical, unfeeling, and unsympathetic. 
Its owner, however, Is deaf to these sins of 
omission ; he Is also In a mood to be pleased 
by anything to-day, and Is thoroughly con- 
tented with himself and his surroundings. 

He Is glad that the Conholt party Is there 
to be entertained by him. He Is happy 
inasmuch as he has got off with half a day's 
hunting, and that the presence of his guests 
gives him a decent excuse for not risking 
his neck again that day ; he has lunched 
well, and as he now sits drinking coffee 
opposite a blazing fire, gently soothed by 
the only music that he Is capable of appre- 
ciating, and gazing his fill at the pretty girl 
who rests her sunshiny head in the corner of 
his Inglenook, he feels as If he had nothing 
left to wish for. 

The " Mikado " barrel is at last ex- 
hausted, the insatiable Orchestrion is once 



A WANDERING STAR. 25 

more fed, and now, '' La fille de Madame 
Angot " is rattled through loudly and 
noisily. 

*' We really can't stay here all day," says 
Lady Hermione, unpleasantly. "We have 
paid you a regular visitation as it is." No 
doubt her visitation would have been longer, 
and the glorified barrel organ would have 
grated less on her nerves, had her host's 
beady eyes been fixed on the opposite 
corner of the inglenook, where Dottle, sulky 
and ill-tempered, has ensconced herself ! 

In her heart of hearts she does not believe 
that her youngest child has it in her to 
attract Mr. Mossop, or any one else for that 
matter. 

No one has a poorer opinion of her 
daughter's fascinations than has Lady 
Hermione ; nevertheless she cannot see a 
possible prey escape without a pang. She 
despises her low-born host, she sneers at 
everything in and about The Towers, but 
she grudges them both to Vega Fitzpatrick, 
who is an interloper in her eyes. 

*' You must come over soon again and 



26 A WANDERING STAR. 

spend a long day at The Towers, whenever 
the hunting Is fairly over," says the hospi- 
table Mr. Mossop, as he waves them off 
from his own hall-door. His words are 
addressed to Lady Hermione, but his eyes 
are fixed on Vega's slim figure as she steps 
lightly into the waggonette. 

** You will honour my poor abode again 
too, I hope, Miss FItzpatrick. You have 
seen nothing of the place, or the gardens, or 
the houses — and the home farm too ! I 
should like you to see my model farm ! 
You must come and be martyrized " — this 
he adds In a tone of clumsy playfulness. 

Vega laughs back at him, as It Is her way 
to smile In every face who looks kindly on 
her. She means nothing by it, but she does 
not know that he means anything by his 
words either ! 

" Oh, yes, Mr. Mossop ; I will come back 
whenever you ask me. I should like so 
much to see everything. I have had a 
delightful afternoon, and thank you so very 
much." 

" What do you mean by that ? " asks 



A WANDERING STAR. 2^ 

Lady Hermlone sharply, as they bowl down 
the approach — smooth as a billiard-table. 
*' I must say your manners are most extra- 
ordinary, Miss Fitzpatrlck. You take Mr. 
Mossop's attentions entirely to yourself, and 
talk as if you were perfectly independent. 
When do you mean to honour The Towers 
with your company ? We shall have Pussie 
and Dottie paying visits to young men next ! 
I suppose these are Dieppe ways ! " 

Vega blushes rosy red. 

" I didn't mean to say or do anything 
wrong, Lady Hermione ; but Mr. Mossop 
was so kind, and when he asked me to come 
over, I didn't know what else to say." 

" Asked jK<^?/ to come over ! " repeats Lady 
Hermione, with a contemptuous smile, as 
she wraps her old fur cloak around her 
handsome shoulders with the air of an 
empress, and leans back in her corner. " I 
suppose we may be imagined to be included 
in the invitation also ? Not that a day spent 
in his society in that dreadful house that 
smells of money — positively smells of money 
' — would have attractions for most people ; 



28 A WANDERING STAR. 

but you are far-seeing, Miss Fitzpatrick — 
very much more wide-awake than your 
neighbours." 

While her mother speaks, Pussie looks 
neither more nor less dull and uninteresting 
than usual ; but Dottle triumphs, and she 
eyes her unconscious rival with a good deal 
of vindictive spite. 



A WANDERING STAR. 2g 



CHAPTER II. 

" In the greenest growth of the May-time 
I rode when the woods were wet, 
Between the dawn and the daytime, 
The Spring was glad that we met." 

The Conholt woods are no longer ablaze 
with daffodils ; their hardy heads no longer 
nod in the keen winds of March. Even the 
wild hyacinths, that lay like a blue mist on 
the banks of the wooded glen but a short 
time ago, have faded ; and the wood 
anemones, delicate and fragile, have lived 
out their short day. The tender emerald of 
larch and beech has turned into a deeper 
and more vivid green, and the trees — most 
of them — are brave in full summer foliage. 
The only defaulters are the oak, whose 
crumpled leaves are still but half open, and 
the sad and sullen ash, who spreads out 



30 A WANDERING STAR, 

naked branches, forbidding and harsh, 
among so much verdure and freshness. 
The country Is at Its very best ; for the 
hope of summer is always more beautiful 
than Its full glory. Everything seems 
bursting into life. The chestnuts, pink and 
white, are in full flower ; long graceful 
tassels hang from acacia and laburnum 
bough ; and a lovely rose-hued garment 
clothes each poor thorn-bush that, but a 
short time ago, looked so brown and hard 
and meagre. 

But' It Is not the desire to see her home in 
all the freshness and glory of spring that 
lures Lady Julia from London In the merry 
month of May ; and It must be confessed 
that, when there is nothing to be done In 
the country, and nothing to be either shot or 
hunted, Colonel Damer also prefers the 
sweet shady side of Pall Mall to the woods 
of Conholt. 

But what Is Whitsuntide for. If not to give 
jaded Londoners an opportunity to rest, and 
people who live every day of their lives 
a chance of varying their amusements ? 



A WANDERING STAR. 3I 

Though London Is empty, though there is 
not a soul in town, and though, in the words 
of the servants' hall, " everybody as is 
everybody " has taken advantage of the 
holidays to leave it — still there is no need to 
mope. Indeed, there is a certain zest about 
a change of scene, as long as the company 
and the amusements are identical. 

The Damers act on this principle. They 
turn their backs on London and their pretty 
house in Mayfair, and go down to Conholt. 
They do not covet each other's society, or 
reckon a tete-a-tete among their holiday 
amusements ; for Colonel Damer knows, by 
sad experience, what Lady Julia would be 
under such circumstances. But they fill 
their house with smart people, who come 
down prepared to enjoy the country to the 
extent of kicking up their heels a little 
higher there than would be possible in 
London. 

Vega has had but a poor time of it since 
they went up to town after Easter, leaving 
herself and Lady Hermione and her daughters 
in possession. It w^ould be hard to believe 



32 A WANDERING STAR. 

that Lady Julia could be any loss to her — 
and, indeed, she was only so in a negative 
kind of way. She engrossed Lady Her- 
mione's attention, who, while her sister was 
at home, and while there was a constant 
stream of visitors to and from Conholt, did 
not see much either of her daughters or 
Vega. 

But, alas ! Lady Hermione had succeeded 
in re-letting her small house in London for 
the season, and had managed to extort from 
Lady Julia a grudging permission to prolong 
her visit for another month or two. 

"And after that you really must go, Her- 
mione," had said Lady Julia, who as ever was 
brutally plain-spoken. *' It's all very well for 
you and Pussi-e and Dottie to come to us every 
now and then for a moderately long visit ; 
but you can't quite look on our house as your 
home. I must say that Reginald has many 
faults, but want of hospitality cannot be 
counted among them. Still, even he will 
turn in the end. You have been two months 
here already. I should like to know who 
else would take you in for so long ; and now 



A WANDERING STAR. 33 

you want to stay on while we are In town. 
Well, all right ! do so If you like ! But I 
must say, I hope you will be able to get Into 
your own house again when we come back 
here for good." 

Lady Hermione's eye flashes, but by a 
mighty effort she keeps her temper. Not 
the least among the miseries of poverty 
does she reckon the necessity of bearing as 
meekly as she Is able the flouts of her sister 
and others like her. She would dearly like 
to pay her back In her own coin, and be as 
frank as Lady Julia herself It would be 
sweet. Indeed, to let her hear the truth once 
In her life. But stronger even than this 
desire Is the Instinct of self-preservation. 
They are so poor — so miserably poor — the 
result of breaking with Lady Julia would be 
utter destruction, from a social point of view. 
The alternative of cheap lodgings in an out- 
of-the way village, or In some dead-and-alive 
watering-place, does not smile on Lady 
Hermione, and the same motives of ex- 
pediency that led Henry the Fourth of 
France to consider Paris well worth a mass 

VOL. II. D 



34 A WANDERING STAR. 

induces her now to keep the peace at any 
price, and to curb he hot heart and temper. 

One parting shot she fires, and she would 
be more than flesh and blood if she could 
resist it. 

*' After all, Julia, if you object so strongly 
to people taking root in your house, you 
ought to look out in another direction. We 
are harmless, at any rate ; but I don't think 
Miss Fitzpatrick quite comes under that 
head. Mark my words, let her stay here but 
a short time longer, and you will be saddled 
with her for life. Reginald wouldn't mind 
that, I suppose ! She makes up to him in 
the most bare-faced manner and, like all 
men, he is flattered. Indeed, he seems to 
have a tremendous fancy for her ; that 
wouldn't afflict you very much, I dare say ! 
It would be rather 'vieux jeu' if you became 
jealous of your husband at this time of day. 
But there are other people besides Reginald 
in the world. She will cross your path, and 
if she stays here for good she will cut you 
out with some of your young men, or I 
am much mistaken. She is far too hand- 



A WANDERING STAR. 35 

some, Julia, to be a mere cipher in the 
house." 

Lady Julia positively writhes. It is as 
gall and wormwood to insinuate to her that 
Vega might possibly outshine her, that her 
lovers might leave her for a younger, fairer 
face, and to be told by her sister that the girl 
is so dangerously bewitching that she will 
have to look to her laurels is almost more 
than she can stand. 

Lady Hermione has all but overreached 
herself, for, anxious to revenge herself on 
some one, no matter who. Lady Julia nearly 
cancels on the spot the permission to pro- 
long her visit, that Lady Hermione has 
wrung from her. She hits on a better plan, 
however. It is a flash of inspiration ; and 
she smiles to herself as she turns the tables 
on her sister. 

''You have always been much alarmed 
about this girl, Hermione," she says, coldly, 
though she still rages inwardly, ''so I may as 
well relieve your mind at once and for ever. 
She will not be a dead weight on our hands. 
To do her justice, girls as good-looking as 

D 2 



36 A WANDERING STAR. 

she is do not hang fire for long. It would 
be quite another thing if it was Pussie or 
Dottie. Oh! yes, Hermione! don't get put 
out at once. Of course I like them because 
they're your children, and all that ; but 
they're what I call hopeless I This Fitz- 
patrlck girl is quite different ; she was bound 
to pick up some one, and I needn't tell you 
who that some one is. Mr. Mossop has 
spoken to me about her constantly, and, 
needless to say, I have given him every 
encouragement. He is desperately in love 
with her, poor wretch ! He has been over 
here till I am sick of the sight of him. 
However, all that sort of thing will soon be 
over now. I expect it will all be settled at 
this picnic that we are going to have to- 
morrow. It will be a real good marriage for 
her — twice as good as anything she had the 
right to expect." 

''And Miss Vega?" asks Lady Hermione, 
after a minute's pause, " what will her answer 
be ? Is It possible she will accept such a 
creature — such a dreadful little cad ? " 

Lady Julia laughs loud and long. 



A WANDERING STAR. 2)7 

*' If you ever say your prayers, Hermlone, 
you would be on your knees, returning 
thanks at this moment, if Dottie was the 
object of his affections instead of Vega ! 
Mr. Mossop is not so bad after all. Of 
course, he is ostentatious and a trifle 
bumptious, but he is thoroughly good- 
natured ; and then his money! He has 
enouorh of that to cover a multitude of 
sins. Who thinks of birth now-a-days in 
comparison with cash ? A man may be 
gutter-bred ; his father may have picked 
rags, and his grandfather oakum, for all any 
one knows or cares in these levellincr times. 
Money — money — money ! That is all 
that is wanted, and Vega may thank her 
stars if she ever reigns at The Towers, 
shoddy as it is inside and out ! Oh yes, she 
won't trouble us much longer, and once she 
is safe off my hands, ' bon jour ' to her. I 
shan't cultivate the Mossop connection very 
much, I promise you ; so there won't be 

much chance of her being in my w^ay." 
^ ^ ^ ^ ^ 

^' If there is one thing more than another 



38 A WANDERING STAR. 

that I hate," says Lady JuHa Darner the 
next morning to Bertie Vanslttart, who is 
still her devoted admirer, though she has 
grown a trifle tired of him, ''it is what we 
have in store for us at this jnoment — a long 
day s pleasuring in the open air, to be rattled 
off immediately after breakfast, with no hope 
of getting home much before dinner-time. 
The very idea of what is hanging over my 
head makes me yawn." 

Bertie Vansittart gazes at her with ador- 
ing eyes, but he does not put into words the 
thought uppermost in his mind, which is that 
if she disliked it so very much he wonders 
that she should have proposed and got up 
the expedition. Slave as he is, he has long 
ago found out that anything that does not 
suit his imperious mistress is seldom carried 
out ; but he cannot read under the cards, and 
is quite in the dark. 

"Yes," goes on his liege lady; "here 
we are, eighteen sane people, who would all 
be tolerably happy if we were only left alone. 
Instead of that we are doomed to be all 
day long in each other's company. We 



A WANDERING STAR. 39 

shall have to grin, and talk, and pretend to 
be amused for eight mortal hours ! We will 
lunch on food spread out on damp grass 
at our feet, and we will sit on stones or 
planks, or cottage chairs, with our plates 
balanced as best w^e can, and close to our 
noses. After our horrid, uncomfortable 
meal we shall have to loiter about doing 
nothing : wandering through damp woods, 
or poking about among ruins that don't 
interest any one of us in the faintest degree. 
Two or three couples will flirt hard, and the 
rest of the world will yawn their heads off. 
That is our programme for to-day ! " 

" I am one with you in all you say ; a big 
picnic can be very slow," says Bertie Van 
sittart. He generally does agree with Lady 
Julia on every imaginable subject, partly 
because his infatuation for her has made him 
servile, and partly from policy ! 'Tt is almost 
a pity the idea was ever started. We should 
have been much happier and freer at home." 

" And at home we should have been, 'my 
good boy, under ordinary circumstances," 
says her ladyship, mockingly, while the 



40 A WANDERING STAR. 

guests, booted and spurred, begin to gather 
in the entrance hall, ready for the start. 
''No power would have induced me to 
take so much trouble but for two reasons-: 
one of them is — that!'' and she looks in the 
direction of Mr. Mossop, who has just ap- 
peared on the scene, having driven over 
from The Towers to join them, and who 
now, awkward, ill at ease, and breathing 
very hard, is fastening the largest gardenia 
ever seen out of a flower-show in the front 
of Miss Fitzpatrick's black jacket. His fat, 
pudgy fingers shake as he fumbles with the 
pin, and his task is certainly made no easier 
by the evident light-heartedness of the lady 
he is adornino;-. She is filled with delio^ht 
at the prospect of the day's holiday, and 
her joy being tempered by no fear that it 
may be too long, she certainly does not keep 
very still under the hands of her admirer, 
who finds it extremely difficult to fasten the 
large white flower to his liking. 

'' That!'' repeats Bertie Vansittart, look- 
ing first mystified and then disgusted. 
" You don't mean to tell me, Lady Julia, 



A WANDERING STAR. 4 1 

that there Is anything between those two ? 
It isn't possible ! That lovely girl is surely 
meant for something better than such a lout!" 
" That lovely girl, as you call her," says 
Lady Julia, frowning, " would be lucky 
beyond her deserts if something comes of 
it. I dare say you know by this time, Bertie, 
that it is uncommonly hard to get along with 
very little money — but how is it to be done 
with none at all ? That is Miss Fitzpat- 
rick's position. She is practically a pauper, 
and her father was such a black sheep that 
all the relations who would otherwise have 
been bound to help him shook him off long 
ago — him and his. This girl has hardly a 
penny in the world, and no home, or people. 
We can't keep her for ever ; she Is nothing 
to us, though, as Reginald was some sort 
of far-away cousin to the mother, I should 
be glad If I could help her to a rich hus- 
band. And here is Mr. Mossop ready and 
willing ! I only hope the whole business 
will be settled to-day, and that one, at least, 
of my plans will succeed," — this with a kind 
of sigh. 



•?<• 



42 A WANDERING STAR. 

Lady Julia is looking magnificent this 
morning. Unlike the generality of women 
whose first youth is past, she can brave the 
light of day, and look all the more glorious 
in it. Thanks to the open-air life she leads, 
winter as well as summer, she is as slim and 
lightly supple as any one of her queenly 
height and noble proportions could expect 
to be. Her olive skin has on it the bloom 
and colour of perfect health, her large dark 
eyes are clear and bright, her hair is shining, 
and the rose carmine on her cheeks is as 
delicately brilliant as if she were still a girl. 
Dressed to perfection as she is, a more com- 
plete picture of a beautiful woman it would 
be hard to find ; the tight-fitting coat of Lin- 
coln green slashed with silver fits like a 
glove the most perfect shoulders in the 
world, and gleams of silver light up her 
whole costume, and give it the touch of 
brightness that it might lack. 

There is hardly a woman to be found any- 
where who could enter into competition with 
Lady Julia Damer as far as mere animal 
beauty goes ; there is not a woman at present 



A WANDERING STAR. 43 

in the house whose pretensions would not be 
laughable beside her own. Ves^a herself will 
never be belle femine like the other, and to 
look on her as a rival to her hostess would 
be pure foolishness. 

Still men are strano^e creatures ! and those 
who may be credited with good taste, even 
while they acknowledge Lady Julia's grand 
type, are apt to turn from her to the childish 
face and sweet pleading eyes of the girl whom 
Lady Hermione considers an Interloper in 
their midst. 

The carriages that are to convey the large 
party to the railway station have not yet 
come round, and the guests still gather in 
the hall by two's and three's. Bertie Van- 
sittart is eager to find out Lady Julia's other 
reason for doing violence to her own Inclina- 
tions, and organizing this long summer 
day's expedition to the ruins of Grimstone 
Castle. 

" And your other plan," he asks eagerly.^ 
*' Is that matrimonial also ? Do you 
mean some more of your guests to make 
love to each other, or what is the second 



44 A WANDERING STAR. 

object you have In view in taking us all 
over r 

'' No, no ! " she says ; " no more match- 
making for me ! That is not in my line 
at all. This other plan of mine is purely 
personal. After having been so much bored 
as I have been ever since I came down to 
Conholt, I think 1 have some right to please 
myself. Who do you think Is going to meet 
us this afternoon ? I will give you twenty 
guesses, and you will never hit on the right 
man. Never — for every one thinks he is at 
the other end of the world ; and once people 
are right away, their friends never seem to 
Imagine there is the slightest chance of their 
ever coming back again ! You can't make 
out who It Is, I see — a very great friend of 



mine." 



*' You have so many, Lady Bijou," sighs 
the young man, and his eyes meet hers re- 
proachfully ; he is not very brilliant, but he 
resents being made her ladyship's confidant, 
and does not relish the task of guessing the 
name of *'the very great friend " whose pre- 
sence at the picnic is to console Lady Julia 



A WANDERING STAR. 45 

for all the drawbacks of the expedition ! 
She, on the other hand, is careless of his 
feelings ; she likes to ride rough-shod over 
her victims ; Indeed it is her firm belief that 
insolence and Indifference keep them at 
her side longer than if she were loving and 
sweet. 

She watches her victim's annoyance with 
something like pleasure — a pleasure that 
arises partly from the proof it gives her that 
his passion for her still burns fierce and 
strong — partly from an innate love of tor- 
menting. "So you can't make out which 
of my friends Is coming from the uttermost 
ends of the earth to meet us to-day ? " and 
she laughs with satisfaction. '' Well ! you 
shan't be kept In Ignorance any longer, 
Bertie. It is no less than Brian Beresford. 
What do you think of that ? He only 
arrived in England two days ago, and only 
came down to these parts last night. Of 
course I wanted him to come to us straight, 
and let his relations slide ; he could go to 
them at any time. But he wouldn't do that ; 
said his people would never forgive him If 



46 A WANDERING STAR. 

he didn't pay them a visit first. I never 
heard such nonsense In my Hfe ! As If, after 
having been away from them for so long, 
they couldn't have waited a few days longer ! 
But no ! Brian Is pretty obstinate when he 
chooses, so In spite of all that I could say he 
has gone to them. His sister's home is about 
ten miles from the place we shall be al to- 
day—quite the other end of the county from 
here, so I have made him promise to come 
over to Grimstone Castle somehow, and meet 
us there. Just think, Bertie ! I haven't seen 
him for eight long months ! It is a lifetime ! 
You can't think how much I have missed him." 
*' A pleasant sort of thing for a fellow to- 
hear," says poor Bertie, feeling every word 
she says as a direct insult. He wishes he 
had the spirit to break with her at once and 
for ever ; he would like now to leave her to 
her undisturbed reflections, but he cannot 
bring himself to do it. What principally 
holds him fast is the knowledi^e that she 
would not care If he went, and that his 
vacant place would be speedily filled by 
some one else ! " I suppose," he goes on, 



A WANDERING STAR. 47 

*'that none of us will have any chance now 
that ,Beresford Is back. For my part, I 
shouldn't have broken my heart if he had 
stayed away for ever." 

" Thank Heaven ! " says Lady Julia, 
piously, " that your wishes have been power- 
less. Well ! I suppose we must be moving 
now. Time's up. If we are to catch the 
train at Nettleby Station we must be off." 

So Lady Julia, who, to do her justice, is 
an excellent organizer, and to whom it is 
almost second nature to arrange every sort 
of society amusement, sends off her party to 
the railway station, fills the omnibus with 
the more Important of her guests, crams the 
waggonette with young, laughing, and light- 
hearted men and girls, and herself follows 
with Bertie Vansittart in her own smart cart 
and high-stepping pony. She is a first-rate 
whip, and takes the greatest pleasure in 
driving anything so difficult as the well- 
bred and spirited animal that is her especia4 
property. She also likes to have Vansittart 
at her side, for though she has just done 
her best to annoy and humiliate him, she 



48 A WANDERING STAR. 

must have a slave, and she must be made 
love to ! If she dreads the length of the 
day, she has at least done everything In her 
power to make it go off well. All her 
plans have been laid with the precision of 
a general who commands an army in an 
enemy's country. 

Servants have been sent on ahead to 
arrange everything in the most luxurious 
fashion ; the ordinary train along the single 
line that passes close to the Grimstone Castle 
ruins has the honour of conveying them to 
their destination, but as only two or three 
trains In the day run on that unimportant 
and little-used line, and as the last one would 
be too early for the revellers, she has had a 
" special" ordered to bring them home in time 
for dinner. Not a stone Is left unturned to 
ensure a success — she likes to be told that 
her parties are always a success — she likes to 
be considered one of the queens of society, 
and she realizes very clearly that she owes 
something to that society which is so con- 
veniently blind to her little escapades, but 
who would be so much more clear-siehted 



A WANDERING STAR. 49 

did she not entertain them so royally. She 
undoubtedly has her reward ! 

If her handsome, well-shaped feet have 
now and then strayed from virtue's path, at 
any rate she has not been hounded Into the 
broad road that leads to destruction by a 
merciless world. It has been an easy-going 
and long-suffering world as far as she Is con- 
cerned, and she has received from It better 
treatment by far than she has deserved, for 
while justice, and not mercy, has been meted 
out to far less flagrant offenders, mercy — 
overflowing mercy — has been her portion. 

Who, Indeed, would be the first to cast a 
stone at a great lady who is so hospitable, 
so charitable, so capable of giving her friends 
so much that they like ? Who wishes to be 
excluded from balls and parties, and all man- 
ner of novel and costly amusements, which 
the greatest In the land sanction and hallow 
by their presence ? So Lady Julia goes on 
her victorious way, unmolested by public 
opinion, and If she sometimes grumbles at 
the price she pays for such immunity, she 
never fails to meet the debt. 

VOL. II. E 



50 A WANDERING STAR. 

Sometimes she amuses the county, some- 
times she makes merry with her London 
friends, and sometimes she entertains the 
masses, under which head she is apt to include 
those who would be very much surprised if 
they imagined they were put in such a 
category ! 

This Whitsuntide party is composed entirely 
of her own particular friends, and this picnic is 
to be only one proof more of her talent for 
organization. She neglects nothing that can 
makeita success. Grimstone Castle is reached 
at exactly the right time : there is half an hour 
before luncheon to wander about among the 
grand old ruins, to encompass what were once 
such strong fortifications, to pass through 
crumbling archways, and to climb up steep 
and half-broken winding stairs, to peer into 
gloomy rooms whose narrow casements are 
dark with strong-growing ivy, to look from 
Gothic window or ladies' lattice, to tread 
the banqueting-hall, to stand on the mossy 
hearthstone of the great arched kitchen, and 
to shudder as the locked and grated door 
that leads down to the dungeons is passed. 



A WANDERING STAR. 5 1 

All this the Conholt party do. The day is 
bright and fair — a true May day — the azure 
blue sky is flecked here and there with the 
slightest possible approach to a cloud, while 
gleams of sunshine light up the ancient walls, 
and brighten the ivy, black with age, that 
clings to them so stoutly ; beech, larch, and 
delicate birch, and the rich and luxuriant 
foliage of sycamore and lime form the 
brightest green background imaginable, and 
their waving boughs, as they swing on the 
light breeze, seem to sing a song of welcome. 
All the wild-flowers seem to have beoun to 
blow at one and the same moment, and an old 
hawthorn-bush that grows right in the centre 
of the great hall Is a sheet of pinky white. 
Some of the party sit under its shadow ; the 
merry voices of the others may be heard in 
all directions, and ever and anon a light 
figure In fluttering garments, generally with 
an attendant cavalier, may be seen against 
the sky-line on the battlements, which hav^e 
only been reached after a bold and venture- 
some climb. 

Lady Julia wanders under the beech-trees 

E 2 






52 A WANDERING STAR. 

that Stretch in a straight line to the high 
road from the principal entrance of the Castle; 
Bertie Vansittart is with her as usual, but 
she gives him but scant attention, for her 
thoughts are distraught, and she strains her 
ears to hear the sound of approaching wheels. 

*' Why is his chariot so long in coming ? 
Why tarry the wheels of his chariot ? " 

Up and down she paces, and her mind 
wanders more and more from her companion's 
words, and the frown on her forehead grows 
deeper and more marked. 

The sound of a waggon in the far distance 
gives her emotions ; the railway whistle 
makes her start ; the hand that Bertie Van- 
sittart presses to his lips is hot and feverish ; 
and when she looks for the fiftieth time at the 
tiny jewelled watch she wears on her wrist, 
and finds it has not stopped, but that it 
is now luncheon-time and Brian Beresford is 
not here, she turns back to her party in a 
most disturbed frame of mind. 

She cannot prevent her guests eating, 
drinking, and making merry, nor can she for- 
bid the gay word and jest, or the peals of 



A WANDERING STAR. 5 



^ 



lauo^hter In which some of those more llo-ht- 
hearted than herself indulge ; but she looks as 
black as thunder, and on this occasion, at 
least, her duties as the giver of the feast are 
performed by proxy. 

In vain does Bertie make love to her; in 
vain are flattering words whispered in her 
ear by some of the other guests. She makes 
a convenient headache an excuse for her 
bad manners, but she never was good at 
concealing her feelings, and her evil temper 
is written in plain characters on her hand- 
some, sulky, blooming face. 

" What is the matter with her ladyship, 
Regie ? " says old Colonel Grahame to her 
husband, as they sit somewhat out of the 
hurly-burly, doing full justice to a first-rate 
luncheon. 

All manner of good things are spread out 
on a ruined wall between them, and the two 
men are as well off as they can expect to 
be under the circumstances. They would 
infinitely rather be at home ; they have 
arrived at the age when picnics are apt to 
pall on the elderly masculine mind, but at 



54 A WANDERING STAR. 

the same time they are making the best 
they can of a bad business. 

** Lady JiiHa seems a good deal annoyed 
about something or other," goes on Colonel 
Grahame, who, being an old friend of the 
family, can afford to be frank. "What has 
gone wrong ? " 

Colonel Damer looks up In the direction 
of his wife, and notices for the first time 
her lowering brow. 

" My dear Grahame," he answers, lightly, 
" I must refer you to Bertie Vansittart, or 
some other victim, if you want to find out. 
No doubt there has been some fault of omis- 
sion or commission on their part which has 
annoyed her. I keep out of the way when 
there Is thunder in the air, and I find It 
generally blows over. Anyhow, I am the 
last person In the world who ought to be 
expected to put things straight." 

"You are pretty easy-going, certainly," 
says Colonel Grahame; "but I have no 
doubt that, with a spirited woman, like your 
wife. It Is the best plan. I expect the sinner 
this time is poor Vansittart, for he is looking 



A WANDERING STAR. 55 

perfectly miserable. I have been watching 
him for the last ten minutes ; he has cut 
himself in two to give satisfaction. I 
believe for a trifle he would make a footstool 
of himself for her ladyship's lovely feet. 
Well, he is a harmless kind of creature, 
and all the pretty women I know have their 
attendant slave now-a-days." 

Colonel Grahame lifts his eyeglass to his 
keen old eye and makes a slow inspection of 
the company till he lights on another pair of 
people, who are also seated somewhat apart 
from the giddy throng. 

" Is it possible," he asks, In tones of sur- 
prise, '' that Mr. Mossop has the audacity to 
lift his eyes to that beautiful FItzpatrick girl ? 
He seems to be paying her the greatest 
possible attention at the present moment. 
Look at him — look at him, Regie ! Why, the 
man Is positively blushing ! He Is highly 
excited, and Is looking uncommonly hot In 
consequence. I suppose he has been pour- 
ing soft nothings Into her ears. I wonder 
she can stand that sort of thing from such a 
little cad ! " 



56 A WANDERING STAR. 

" Julia assures me," says Colonel Darner, 
as he, too, looks across the court to a shady 
corner where Mr. Mossop and Vega are 
lunching, " that Mossop 's attentions are un- 
mistakable, and she declares that Vega 
gives him the o^reatest encourao^ement. I 
expect the wish Is father to the thought In a 
great measure, for my wife has set her heart 
on that marriage coming off. For my part, 
I don't know what to say about It. Vega 
FItzpatrIck Is the sweetest little girl I ever 
knew, and she has made me very fond of 
her. Naturally, I think her a thousand 
times too good for that fellow Mossop, who 
is common and under-bred, and shows his 
utter want of quality In everything he says 
or does. He Is too old for her, too — too 
old and too ugly ! On the other hand, he 
has plenty of money and a nice enough 
place ; and though he Is a cad, as you say, he 
is, at all events, a good-natured one. One 
can't blink the fact that the poor little thing 
is In a very peculiar and a very friendless 
position. Not one of the Vivian relations 
would ever have anything to do with the 



A WANDERING STAR. 57 

FItzpatrlcks since her father came to grief. 
They even let poor Mary che of a broken 
heart, so determined were they to shake off 
the whole family. I believe they hardly 
know of this child's existence, or, at any rate, 
they don't want to know it. I never heard 
what relations there were on her father's 
side — none that could do her much good, I 
fancy. If you remember, Grahame, no one 
ever knew much about Ralph Fitzpatrick's 
family. He was good-looking, and he was 
the fashion, and then he married a Vivian, 
but no one quite made out where he sprang 
from himself. So the long and the short of 
it is, poor Vega has not a soul to turn to 
except ourselves." 

" She has got a good friend in you. Regie, 
at any rate," says Colonel Grahame, kindly, 
" and she might do worse." 

"Yes," answers Colonel Damer ; "but, 
fond as I am of her, I can't expect wonders 
from Julia. It is quite natural that she 
wouldn't care to be burdened always with a 
young girl, and she is the last person who 
would spoil all her own fun to look after some 



58 A WANDERING STAR. 

one who had no real claim on her. No, no ! I 
wouldn't even propose it. Well, then, what's 
to be done with the child ? She has no money, 
or as good as none. Perhaps a marriage to a 
rich man, who would at least be kind to her, 
would be the best thing that could happen 
to her. Who knows, too, but that Mossop's 
want of birth may be a point In his favour 
after all, for there are some families who 
would strongly object to Ralph Fitzpatrlck's 
daughter coming among them ? He was not 
only a black sheep, but a poor, disreput- 
able black sheep. He never forced his way 
back into the fold, as so many of them do now- 
a-days. To do him justice, he never tried. 

''He was branded once and for ever. He 
wasn't even lucky enough to be forgotten. 
For some reason or other his sins are raked 
up, and discussed, and talked over, even up 
to the present time. Other sins as glaring 
and heinous are forgotten, but either because 
he was such a well-known ficrure in London 
society, or because such cases have a morbid 
interest to some people, the waters of oblivion 
have never passed over them." 



A WANDERING STAR. 59 

" And even if a story of that kind Is half 
forgotten," says Colonel Grahame, " it is 
always there to be dragged to the light of 
day to suit people s plans, or gratify their 
spite. You are very wise, Darner. If this 
fellow is at all possible, that is to say, if he 
is good-natured and good-hearted enough, 
and warranted not to make the poor child 
miserable, I should waive all thoughts about 
his want of birth and breeding, and think her 
uncommonly lucky to be safely settled for 
life. I dare say she's seen very few men, and 
she'd get to like a kind husband well enough 
in time, even though he was a trifle vulgar. 
I suppose we ought to go and join the rest 
of them now, Damer. I see luncheon is 
over, and they are all on the move. After 
what you have told me I shall give those two 
a wide berth, for, all things considered, I don't 
believe that pretty girl could do better than 
accept Mr. Mossop. From the maudlin ex- 
pression of his countenance, I should not be 
surprised If he proposed to-day. I only 
hope she will have the sense to accept him." 

" I tell you, Bertie, I won't have it!" Lady 



6o A WANDERING STAR. 

Julia is saying to Mr. Vansittart as the two 
men saunter up. "I have a spHtting headache, 
and want nobody's society but my own. 
Talking w^ould drive me mad, and I dare say 
I shall be better by the time you get back to 
tea. Anyhow, I will be left alone ! " 

The flush on her cheek may be the result 
of suffering, but the whole expression of her 
handsome face betokens that she is not in a 
mood to be contradicted. Bertie Vansittart 
pleads no more for leave to stay with her, 
while the others start on their expedition up 
the glen. He follows them, slowly, laggingly, 
and ostentatiously alone. 

He wishes his imperious lady to see that 
he is miserable away from her, and it is not 
till he is half way up the glen that he quickens 
his steps to join the rest, and consoles himself 
in the society of one of the prettiest girls of 
the party. 

Lady Julia, when she is left alone, does 
not weep, or wring her hands. She feels 
WTath and anger against the man who has 
promised and failed, rather than sorrow ; but, 
unfortunately, with a woman of her stamp. 



A WANDERING STAR. 6 1 

opposition, or indifference, or disappointment, 
only adds fuel to the fire. Too much love 
would cloy ; too great humility would only 
breed in her contempt for her victim. All 
those who are too eager to please her find her 
Impassible. Had Brian Beresford hurried to 
the trysting-place, had he been over-eager to 
see his liege lady after thousands of miles of 
travel and many months' absence, her passion 
would have speedily cooled. 

Now, as she paces under the great trees 
that border the avenue, her mind is filled 
with him, and him alone. 

He has failed her — her — the great Lady 
Julia, and, strange as it may seem, she loves 
him all the better for it. 

A light breeze straight from the sea, some 
miles away, bears on its bosom the fragrance 
of ozone and the wafted odours of the clover- 
fields across which it has passed ; overhead 
the beech boughs almost interlace ; the birds 
are carolling their spring songs ; the wood- 
pigeons are cooing from the wood close a't 
hand ; ferns and way-side flowers carpet the 
turf, and the rabbits flit across the ride, un- 



62 A WANDERING STAR. 

daunted by the sight of a stranger fiofure. 
Everything speaks of peace and happi- 
ness. It Is a kind of earthly paradise, 
in which some might sigh to dwell for 
ever. 

But to be alone In Eden is not the Ideal of 
the stately lady who paces up and down. It 
does not, Indeed, often happen to her to be 
left In perfect solitude, and It will not last 
long now ! For listen ! hark ! the sound of 
horse s hoofs falls on her ears. She has no 
time for wonder or suspense, for the next 
moment a horseman comes in sight, and 
when she sees that It is indeed Brian Beres- 
ford who Is galloping towards her as quickly 
as his good horse will bring him, then her 
heart all but stops beating, and a great joy 
takes possession of her. 

'' Brian ! Brian ! " She is beyond speaking. 
She has nothing to say but his name, and she 
repeats that again and again, as If to assure 
herself that he is really in the flesh and at 
her side. 

He flings himself off his horse, and seizes 
her hands In both of his, and they stand thus 



A WANDERING STAR. 63 

looking into each other's faces without speak- 
inor for a minute or two. 

When great friends or great enemies meet 
after a long absence, it is curious that they 
often cannot get out a word ; those who 
neither like nor dislike are full of phrases, of 
news, of Smalltalk. Not so the others who have 
loved or hated overmuch : they are tongue- 
tied, and a silence as of death falls on them. 
It is Lady Julia who first breaks the spell, 
and once more the man may say, as so many 
men have said before him, " the woman 
tempted me," for it is she who leans nearer 
and nearer to him, and whose rose-red lips 
come dangerously near his own. Their 
handsome faces are close — too close together 
for strict propriety. Her large eyes, glowing 
with rich vitality and passionate love, are 
looking into his, and he would be more than 
mortal — at any rate he would not be Brian 
Beresford — were he to resist such an offer ! 

The kiss that is offered him so freely he 
takes, and as he clasps another man's wife in 
his arms he — like ninety-nine men out of a 
hundred — forgets the fair, youthful face that 



64 A WANDERING STAR. 

has haunted his dreams by sea and land for so 
many months. He Hves only in the present 
moment, and indeed, young and ardent as 
he is, how could it be otherwise ? Lady Julia 
is a woman born to turn men's heads, and to 
fan the fire of all unlawful passions. She is 
indescribably alluring, and as Brian stands 
beside her the feelings of a year ago seem 
suddenly to return to him. It may be but a 
passing temptation, or it may hold him for 
life — but he is her slave once more. She 
breaks at last the happy silence. " And you, 
my darling," she whispers, and her words 
sound like sweet music in her own ears, 
" you have remembered me, I do believe." 

'' Remember you. Bijou ! oh ! people don't 
easily forget you ! You cant be forgotten." 
She leans towards him again, and once 
more their lips meet, and once more Lady 
Julia feels that if that kiss were a mortal sin 
it would still be worth the sinning. She has 
this excuse — she is fairly carried off her own 
feet and, at least, she does not sin from 
intention. 

They walk side by side under the beeches ; 



A WANDERIxXG STAR. 6^ 

slowly they pace along and, though the 
golden days of childhood have long passed 
for both of them, like children they walk 
hand in hand. 

Perhaps she has never in her life been 
happier than at this minute ; she even knows 
that she is happy ; and to how few of us is 
that knowledge given, for it is only when 
Fairyland is far behind us that we feel that 
we too have been in Arcadia. 

" You are glorious as ever, miladi," says 
Brian, with admiring eyes. '' I have seen 
nothing like you since I left my native 
shores. I had forgotten, I think, how 
splendid you are. One must see you to 
realize your good looks." 

Such a greeting after such a long absence 
seems to her only natural and fitting. It is 
always the same — men always harp on about 
her beauty — it s the animal side of them 
that is touched — the lust of the eye alone 
that is gatified. 

She might say, like the '' Queen Sidonian," 
" My face made faint the face of man," 
and her ambition takes no higher flight. 

VOL. II. F 



66 A WANDERING STAR. 

That Is all she wishes — all she hopes — and 
she looks for nothing more, for tribute to her 
beauty Is sweeter to her soul than aught else. 

She feels Brian's fingers thrill in her 
grasp, and she knows she has him under 
her spell again — that spell that was all but 
broken before he went away, but which she 
means to cast on him again, though she die 
for it. 

She has never In her life felt quite sure of 
him ; he had all but escaped her once or 
twice, and she does not forget now how 
Vega Fitzpatrick had come between them 
last autumn ; but she undervalues the 
strength of the girl's attractions, and she 
has half forgotten the jealous pangs she 
felt In the Gitana last year. 

Clever as she Is, she does not quite know 
the heart of man yet, nor does she think it 
possible that as they walk there close 
together, as only lovers walk, his mind is 
even now wandering from her, and he has a 
question on his lips that he longs to ask, but 
his courage fails him. 

They talk about her — about her wonderful 



A WANDERING STAR. 67 

good looks — about all she has been doing of 
late, and a little, a very little, about himself 
and his travels ; but she does not care to hear 
about China or Japan, and now that he is 
back once more it is a matter of supreme 
indifference to her where he has been or 
what he has seen. 

They are walking slowly side by side in the 
direction of the Castle, over the soft warm 
grass, the pleasant rneads stretching out on 
both sides of the beech- frin^>'ed avenue. The 
bridle hangs loosely over Brian s arm, and 
his horse moves along at his side as slowly 
and contentedly as do the two friends who 
have just met. 

Brian's content is perhaps too great for 
words, for silence falls on him at last ; 
mlladis ^^hlte hand is dropped, the two 
goodly figures pace along side by side, and 
the torrent of their words is stayed. 

" You must tell me about all my old 
friends," breaks out the young man sud- 
denly, and his breath comes short and quick, 
as if he had been running fast. " You can't 
think how behind hand I am in news about 

r 2 



68 A WANDERING STAR. 

everybody. Of all the friends and relations 
who promised faithfully to keep me posted up 
in news only the Colonel stuck to his word. 
People won't bother about writing to any 
one so far away as I was. I suppose they 
think there are so many chances against one's 
coming home at all that one may as well be 
dropped at once. The Colonel was a brick, 
and wrote regularly. I zvas grateful, I can 
tell you. I wouldn't l}ave missed his letters 
for the world ; all the same, I am bound 
to say he didn't give me much information. 
His letters were full of hunting, and all that, 
which, of course, I liked to hear about, but 
I sometimes wished he had gone a little 
farther, and told me about some of my pals. 
Half my friends may be either dead or 
buried — or — or married for all I know — broke 
perhaps — that last is, I daresay, exactly what 
has happened to one or two of them." 

*' Who do you want to hear about first, 
Brian ? " asks Lady Julia, in a constrained 
voice, and laughing a short, dry laugh. " Do 
you wish me to give you a full and particular 
account of all the uncles and aunts, and 



A WANDERING STAR. 69 

sisters and cousins you may own, because, If 
so. It will take me a week, at any rate. Or 
do you w^sh a short memoir of all your 
friends and acquaintances ? Their name Is 
Legion. I am not equal to such a task. 
You must take it for granted that most of 
them are alive and kicking, or married, or 
broke, or dead, for all I know. But I sup- 
pose there are one or two very special people 
who are the objects of your young affections. 
Tell me their names, Brian, and I will break 
to you as gently as I can any bad news 
I know about them. Who knows but that 
they may be here with us to-day, for we 
know much the same lot of people." 

She waits In eager expectation for him 
to speak. Surety a man like Brian will 
go straight to his point, and ask for the 
well-being of those most dear to him first 
of all. 

She is dying to know the name that 
trembles on his lips. He has not been half 
an hour In her society, and she Is already 
jealous of him ; yet she has had him utterly 
to herself, and even she cannot deny him the 



70 A WANDERING STAR. 

right of having friends, or the privilege of 
hearing about them. 

He does not answer her at once ; his eyes 
are on the short-cropped grass at their feet, 
while hers are fixed on his handsome, sun- 
burnt face. They were silent when they first 
met, but It Is not the same kind of silence as 
now. 

The dead, stupid pause Is broken at last. 

" As you say. Lady Bijou, I have so many 
people to hear about," cries Brian, rousing 
himself, and speaking in a tone and with a 
laugh In which even her ladyship's jealous 
ears do not detect any particular agitation ; 
'' but one must begin somewhere. Tell me 
about the people who were on board the 
Gitana when we cruised about together last 
autumn." 

Quick as lightning does the Image of Vega 
FItzpatrick flash across Lady Julias eager 
brain ; but she is crafty, and temporizes — she 
will keep him in suspense as long as possi- 
ble — she will watch him, and draw her own 
conclusions. 

" You expect a great deal from me, Brian," 



A WANDERING STAR. 7f 

she says, with forced merriment. " Am I to 
begin at the beginning, and give you a full 
account of all the people we had on board 
the yacht from July to September ? To do It 
thoroughly one would need to overhaul the 
log, or at least to send for the book in which 
all the visitors wrote their names. We 
could then go Into It chapter and verse. 
But no, Brian. You don't want to hear about 
them all, or I am much mistaken. Be honest, 
and mention some of your particular 
favourites, and I will tell you what has come 
over them. Don't be nervous ! I can reheve 
your mind at once by saying that, as far as I 
know, no great misfortune has fallen on any 
of our guests. None of them have joined 
the majority, or been married, or divorced, 
that I can remember, so begin without any 
mlsrivinof." 

" Well ! the last lot of people you had on 
board just before I left — where have they 
all got to ? " says Brian, with no more fenc- 
ing or beating about the bush. 

"Our last party on board the Git ana,'' 
repeats Lady Julia, mockingly, and some 



72 A WANDERING STAR. 

more colour comes into her handsome face, 
"It was a very small one — only ourselves, 
and Cissy Grahame, and Miss Fitzpatrick. 
Which of the two am I to beein with ? " 

'' Oh ! Cissy Grahame is certain to be 
all right," he answers, growing careless of 
concealment. '' But I should like to hear 
about — the other. Is she still at Dieppe ? 
I asked the Colonel about her in half a dozen 
letters, but he never answered one of my 
questions. 1 am very anxious to hear about 
her," he goes on gravely, '' for her story was 
such a miserable one. I don't know when I 
ever felt so sorry for any one. Tell me about 
her, Lady Julia." 

His blue eyes are no longer gay or mirth- 
ful, but eager and troubled, as he turns them 
in her ladyship's direction. He does not 
get his answer just at once, for the very good 
reason that his companion cannot command 
her voice. 

The words that she tries to speak choke 
her, and the jealous hatred of Vega which 
has slumbered, but has never died, returns 
with a rush. 



A WANDERING STAR. 7 



■-» 



Her own madness In having allowed the 
girl to remain among them to cross her path 
again, and her wrath when she finds that even 
in the first moments of their meeting Brian 
still thinks of her rival, are too much for 
her, and deprive her of the powers of 
utterance. 

Some warning and mocking words of her 
sister's return to her memory. They have, no 
doubt, rankled in her mind for long, but she 
feels them now in their full truth. Added to 
all this she needs a moment's breathing space 
to settle what she shall say, and the false 
impression that she means to bring forth in 
words must be put Into some shape. 

" She, at least, has had many ups and 
downs," she answers at last, and she 
manao^es to make her voice sound much as 
usual. " The strangest part of it all Is that we 
have had the pleasure of her society for I 
don't know how long. That dreadful Mr. 
FItzpatrIck — but no I suppose I must not 
call him dreadful now — died suddenly some 
time ago. It was no doubt an unmitigated 
blessing to every one concerned except our- 



74 A WANDERING STAR. 

seWe?, but as he thought fit to commend his 
daughter to Reginald's care we were obliged 
to get her over to Conholt. I can't say the 
plan has been a very successful one. I 
never liked this Miss Vega, as you know, and 
I don't think the last few months have 
improved her. She is so forward and gush- 
ing, and she has a shocking manner to 
strangers. After all, what could one expect 
from a girl brought up anyhow in a foreign 
watering-place, by a disreputable man like 
Ralph Fitzpatrick ? You can't imagine what a 
bother she has been to me — always clashing 
with Hermione's girls, and all that kind of 
thing. Thank Heaven," and here Lady 
Julia's voice grows harder, and more impres- 
sive as she expresses her gratitude to the 
higher powers, " my troubles are now 
over ! She has managed to captivate that 
rich Mr. Mossop. 

*' You remember him, I am sure — a ter- 
rible little man, who bought The Towers a 
short time ago, and who has done it up 
lately in the most ludicrous way. Well, 
Miss Fitzpatrick has played her cards to 



A WANDERING STAR. 75 

some purpose, and, in spite of my sister 
Hermione's frantic efforts to secure him for 
Dottie, she has won the game. They are 
as good as engaged : so ' all's well that ends 
well ! ' " 

She now speaks easily, and her words 
actually have the ring of truth. Brian 
cannot but believe. Why should he not ? 
What had ever passed between him and 
Vega to justify him in thinking— hoping — - 
that she would still be free to listen to 
him ? 

How was she to know that he had never 
ceased to think of her, and that the wish to 
see her again had made him cut short his 
travels ? If she had thought about him at 
all it would be as one who had amused him- 
self by making love to her the short time 
they had been together, and then had left 
her, taking no farewell. 

Lady Julia goes on : '' It is very lucky, is 
it not ? that things have turned out so well. 
Even Reginald is pleased, and I am over- 
joyed to be spared all further trouble, while 
she is indeed fortunate in making such a 



76 A WANDERING STAR. 

rich marriage. No one Is disappointed but 
Hermlone,"— and she laughs maHcIously. 

Brian pulls himself together. The bolt 
has told ; but he Is not the man to show his 
discomfiture. 

"Are they really engaged? Is It quite 
settled ? I can't Imagine Miss FItzpatrIck 
throwing herself away In that fashion. For 
a girl of that sort to marry such a little cad 
Is perfectly preposterous !" 

''And where would she find any one 
better, my dear Brian ? Do be sensible for 
once, and try and see both sides of the 
question," counsels Lady Julia, who Is noto- 
rious for being blindly one-sided. " Would 
you expect a duke to marry Ralph Fitz- 
patrlck's daughter, and poor men of good 
family always look out for money them- 
selves. No, no ! — she has been lucky indeed, 
as you will say some day when she enter- 
tains you at The Towers ! " 

Lady Julia has talked so eagerly that for 
the moment she half believes what she is 
asserting ; but whether she did or not, she 
would say it all the same. They have now 



A WANDERING STAR. "]*] 

reached the Castle, which seems still de- 
serted, for the rest of the party have not 
returned from the glen. They stand for a 
moment at the principal entrance and are 
about to enter when her ladyship's white hand 
is laid on Brian's shoulder. She half holds 
him back as she points across the court to 
a window on whose broken sill the subject 
of their conversation is sitting. Miss Fitz- 
patrick has mounted on the embrasure, 
while Mr. Mossop, who is on a lower tier 
of stones, looks as if he were kneeling at 
her feet. The Qrlrl's face is turned from him 
and from them, but there is no mistaking 
the expression that his broad, middle-aged 
countenance wears. It betokens love ! — as 
much love as such an uninteresting face is 
capable of showing. He is gazing up at her 
— gaping rather — and his small eyes, em- 
bedded in fat, seem as If they could not 
stare enough at the slim, supple young 
figure, and the little bit of white chin and 
rounded cheek which is all he sees of his 
lady's face. The pose of her figure is care- 
less and easy ; she may be weary of Mr. 



yS A WANDERING STAR. 

Mossop and bored by his companionship, 
but at least she does not look it, and his 
feelings are unmistakable. No one could be 
deceived who took the trouble of looking at 
him. 

Lady Julia utters a dumb thanksgiving. 
The Devil himself must have been at work 
to help to give her lying w^ords a semblance 
of truth. Brian has now only to look and 
judge for himself ; no fear of his disbelieving 
her story now ! They stand for two or three 
minutes Qrazinof at those who look so like a 

o o 

pair of lovers. Vega never turns her head, 
and as for Mr. Mossop, he is utterly oblivious 
to everything but his companion. There is 
no possibility of mistaking his feelings either. 
Thick-set, stumpy, middle-aged as he is, 
any one can see that he is a victim to the 
tender passion. Brian would be blind indeed 
if he doubted now what Lady Julia has 
already told him. Once more her white 
hand rests on Brian's shoulder, and laying 
her finger on her lips with the air of one 
who would not willingly interrupt a serious 
flirtation she moves away with almost 



A WANDERING STAR. 79 

ostentatious care and prudence. Beresford 
must needs follow her ; she has left him no 
option ; but it is with a heavy heart that he 
does so. 

For a man who has just come home after 
so many months' absence his silence and 
dulness is very noticeable when the rest of 
the party join them. 

He is glad to see Colonel Damer ; but 
Colonel Damer wonders what can have 
happened to his friend Brian at the other 
side of the world to have taken all the spirit 
out of him. 

Cissy Grahame, as she shakes hands with 
him, gives him one glance out of her keen 
eyes, and draws some conclusion not very 
far from the truth. Lady Hermione scents 
battle in the air, and hopes to reap some 
personal advantage out of the hurly-burly ! 
All the party are gathered together in a 
group, and at last the laggards join the rest. 
Mr. Mossop's air of proprietorship, as he 
walks beside his lovely companion, annoys 
some of the other men of the party as well 
as Brian Beresford. He is swelling with 



8o A WANDERING STAR. 

satisfaction and Importance. Things must 
have gone very well with him to-day, and 
he looks positively obnoxious in his pros- 
perity. 

So, in this crowd and in this fashion, does 
Vega meet at last the man who has filled 
her thoughts for so many weary months. 

Her sweet face turns rosy red — her lovely 
eyes are filled with a great joy, and she 
stretches out her hands to him. It would be 
nearly impossible to mistake or misjudge her 
feelings. Brian does both. He believes that 
her blushes are called forth by other causes, 
and he has alreadv said to himself that he 
will not enter the lists with Mr. Mossop. 

His greeting to Vega is coldly — calmly 
polite. He lifts his hat — he holds her hand 
for a moment — he says the banal sentences 
that are a hundred times more crushing than 
utter silence — and Vega takes the hint. 

The colour leaves her face as quickly as it 
had mounted there — leaves her, indeed, 
ghastly pale for a moment ; and then, 
recovering herself as well as she Is able, she 
follows Mr. Mossop obediently to a distant 



A WANDERING STAR. 8 1 

window which he credits with an extensive 
view. 

" ' The Lord hath deHvered thee into my 
hand/ " thinks Lady JuHa, in the spirit, if 
not in the words, of David, as she watches 
their retreating figures, and she binds Brian 
Beresford to her side, as a man may some- 
times be bound who has failed to touch the 
supreme good, and falls back on the lesser. 

''Where has everybody gone?" asks 
Vega, in surprise, half an hour later, as she 
and her companion come back once more to 
the Castle, after a ramble of Mr. Mossop's 
contriving through the woods. 

The Castle is not only deserted, but its 
strong, iron - barred gate is locked and 
bolted. There is no sign of life anywhere. 
The crumbling walls no longer echo to the 
sound of merry voices, and gaily-clad figures 
no longer flit about like birds on the wing. 

''What is the meaning of this?" says 
Mr. Mossop, almost at the same moment. 
" They are all off ! They have left us in 
the lurch ! We shall have to follow them to 
the station as quickly as we can. I blame 

VOL. II. G 



82 A WANDERING STAR. 

myself greatly for the discomfort and fatigue 
of your hurried walk, Miss Fitzpatrick," he 
adds, with heavy politeness, as the two 
hurry across the fields in the direction of the 
railway station. 

The girls light figure seems made for 
active motion — there is not much fear of her 
elastic step flagging. It is he himself who 
" makes bad weather of it," and puffs and 
pants as they brush through the long grass, 
and he climbs the numerous stiles that seem 
set there on purpose to annoy an elderly 
gentleman, whose thick-set figure has lost 
any little spring it may once have possessed. 

As he alights heavily on the ground after 
each obstacle has been surmounted, and, out 
of breath with the exertion, tries to keep up 
with his companion, who Is hurrying along 
in real earnest, he feels acutely his age and 
weight as contrasted with her youth and 
nimbleness ; and by the time they arrive at 
the little road -side station he is thoroughly 
put out. 

But the same quiet reigns here that they 
found at the Castle. 



A WANDERING STAR. 83 

What does it all mean ? Where Is the 
much-talked-about ''special"? Where are 
Lady Julia, her large party, the attendant 
serv^ants, and the fringe of boys and "odd 
men " who have made themselves useful in 
carrying hampers and rugs and all the other 
** properties " of the pic-nic ? Why is there 
but one man — and he an apparently incap- 
able and surly one — to be seen at all ? and 
why should he be stretched in indolence 
and as much ease as the narrow bench of 
the railway-shed can afford, smoking his 
pipe, and cutting his nails with a clasp- 
knife ? 

" What is the meaning of all this ? " asks 
Mr. Mossop, loudly and authoritatively — the 
quick walk has put him thoroughly out of 
temper ; and, being scant of breath, his 
words sound as if jerked out. " What are 
you doing here all alone, my good fellow ? 
Why is the ticket-office closed ? and where 
is the special train ? " 

The porter half sits up, his hob-nail boots 
leave the bench, his clasp-knife is shut with 
a jerk, and he pulls himself together some- 

G 2 



84 A WANDERING STAR. 

what, though his manner is by no means 
conciHatory. 

" One question at a time, mister," he says, 
with heavy famlHarlty. *' Which on em 
shall it be fust ? " 

Mr. Mossop looks as if he would like to 
eat him ; but he restrains himself. 

" Where has the * special ' got to ? " he 
inquires, with forced calm. 

" Where be ' speshul ' got to ? " repeats 
the man after him. '' Oh, it be got half way 
to Barrowton by now — leastways, as far as I 
can say, for It's hard to tell for sartin about 
them kind o' trains." 

'' Gone ! gone ! ! " says Mr. Mossop, his 
eyes almost starting out of his head. '' But 
where are the rest of our party ? Where 
has everybody got to ? " 

** The party as ordered the 'speshul' has 
gone in the 'speshul.' Whether it be your 
party or no, I carn't say. They never 
missed nobody ! They wouldn't have been 
likely to leave no one behind, so I expect it 
was jtot your party." 

'' This man has been drinking, '^ whispers 



A WANDERING STAR. 85 

Mr. Mossop to Vega — which, Indeed, was 
perfectly true, and on the excellent vintage 
of '79 champagne, of which a bottle had 
been abstracted by him out of an ill-fastened 
hamper. 

Aloud he asks him, " What are we to do ? 
Can we get another ' special ' ? '* 

** Haw, haw ! that zs a good 'un," laughs 
the porter, evidently much tickled at the 
idea. ''If you was the Prince of Wales 
himself we couldn't do that for you. Why, 
there's no train and no telegraph-orfis and 
no station-master here ! He went home the 
minute the ' speshul ' left — yes, you can look 
for yerself. If yer don't believe me," as Mr. 
Mossop peers Into the ticket-office, in which 
is a large-faced clock, a small desk, a 
wooden chair, and naught else — " I will be 
away myself In a few minutes." 

"And when will the next — the ordinary 
train — be here ? " asks Vega in trembling 
accents. She has already taken fright at the 
prospect before her. 

Heavily does the porter struggle to his 
feet, and without troubling himself to answer 



S6 A WANDERING STAR. 

he runs a great dirty thumb down the side 
of a large time-table that hangs like a pic- 
ture on the walls of the shed. His powers 
of reading are limited, and he makes one or 
two mistakes about the Up and the Down 
lines, but he finally finds what he Is looking 
for. "At6A.M, little Missy," he answers; 
" that means at 6 to-morrow mornin'. That's 

the fust down train that stops here ; It '' 

" D it all ! " Interrupts Mr. Mossop, 

breathless with wrath and excitement ; *' and 
do you mean to tell me we shall have to wait 
here all night ? " 

" Wait where you will," answers the man, 
sulkily, ''it's all one to me." 

''And not seven o'clock yet. The thing is 
impossible — quite impossible," storms Mr. 
Mossop. " Where can I get a carriage ? I 
I suppose we are at least forty miles from 
Conholt, Miss FItzpatrIck, but we must post 
home." 

"There's naught o' that sort to be done 
here," returns the porter ; " naw. Indeed, 
there's not a chay in the whole place, unless 
it be Mr. Attrlll's light cart, and quality as 



A WANDERING STAR. 8/ 

looks for speshuls 'ull never come down to 
that." 

" Is there an hotel of any sort in the 
village, then, where we could stay for the 
night ? I fear, I very much fear, Miss Fitz- 
patrick, that is the only thing to be done." 

''There be'ant no ho-tel — leastways onless 
you calls the 'Turk's Head' one, and you 
and the young lady couldn't sleep in the 
bar ! To be sure, there's Mrs. Mew at 
Hurdleford Farm, she do take in lodgers 
now and again, but she's very particular, is 
Mrs. Mew, and onless you had references — 
ay ! and good ones, too — she wouldn't so 
much as look at you." 

"Well, what in the world is to happen to 
us ? " says Vega, half weeping. " You know 
the country about here. What do you advise 
us to do ? " 

"Why, if you puts it like that. Missy, 
I'll tell you fair and square what's yer best 
way out o' the hobble. There's Great Ped- 
lington, that's no more nor four, or maybe 
five, miles from here. You take your foot in 
your hand and walk there. You'll be there 



SS A WANDERING STAR. 

by nine o'clock at latest, and then you can 
put up at the ' Bugle.' That's sommat like 
an ho-tel, that is, and to-morrow morning 
early you can take the train and get back to 
ver friends, and no one will be none the 
wiser. Well, I maun be off now, or my 
missus 'ull want to know the reason why." 
And with that the conversation ends, and he 
lurches out of the station, leaving the two 
alone once more. 

It is not Vega's way to weep or complain; 
she is made of stronger stuff than that, but 
her spirit fails her as she thinks of the pros- 
pect in front of them — a prospect which in- 
cludes the return to Conholt the next 
morning and her ladyship's reception of the 
wanderers ! 

" How could they have forgotten us ? " she 
asks Mr. Mossop. " Surely some one might 
have seen that we had been left behind ! 
It was very unkind of them, and very un- 
fortunate for us. What in the world shall 
we do .^ " 

*• We can't stay here all night, at any 
rate," returns Mr. Mossop, '' and I don't think 



A WANDERING STAR. 89 

we have much choice. We had better follow 
that lout's advice, and walk to Great Ped- 
lington. I don't know the way, but I sup- 
pose we can find out. I am awfully sorry 
(or yoti, Miss Fitzpatrick. It was too bad 
of them not to look after yozi, at any rate." 

Vega has been out in the open air all day, 
and she can hardly drag one foot after 
another before they arrive at their destina- 
tion. Not only do the five miles seem par- 
ticularly long ones, but they miss their way 
two or three times. The lanes — sunk as 
they are between high banks, crowned by tall, 
straggling hedges, green, leafy, and over- 
grown, which shut out all view of the sur- 
rounding country — soon grow dark. Great 
Pedlington may be a hundred miles away 
for all they can tell, and they plough on 
through the gathering dusk in a hopeless 
sort of way. 

Mr. Mossop is a most dispiriting com- 
panion as he groans over the chapter of 
accidents that has brought them to this pass, 
and Vega, tired and footsore, walks at last in 
total silence by his side. 



90 A WANDERING STAR. 

Fortune has played her a nasty trick this 
time. It seems as if it was quite impossi- 
ble for her ever to be done with Mr. Mossop! 
He had stuck to her the whole day. She had 
never been able to shake him off, and now 
she finds herself in what is really a com- 
promising position with the man who, of all 
others, bores her, and whose fatuous atten- 
tions and pompous good-nature annoy her 
more than she can express. 

On they trudge — the light is really going 
now — and the street lamps — few, indeed, 
and dim, of Great Pedlington — are already 
lighted before the weary wanderers walk up 
its ill-paved street and find themselves at 
the door of the " Buofle." 

The Grimstone porter seems to have 
overrated its splendour, but it looks at least 
fairly passable, and they enter its narrow 
hall, half blocked up with bagmen's bundles, 
and approach the bar-window, out of which 
a sour-faced spinster of an uncertain age is 
looking. 

Their appearance so late at night, and 
without luggage of any kind, does not com- 



A WANDERING STAR. 9 1 

mend itself to her, and she looks critically 
from the red-faced man who stands there so 
awkwardly, and whose clothes are a mass of 
dust, to the young girl in the draggled dusty 
frock, whose pale face is so woe-begone and 
miserable. 

These are not the usual customers oj the 
'' Bugle," an establishment which, above all 
things, is respectable, and they do not find 
favour in her eyes. 

''Dinner!" she repeats doubtfully, as If 
Mr. Mossop had asked for something utterly 
unheard of and impossible, '' I don't see how 
it can be done at this time of night. Perhaps 
you can have a cut off the cold sirloin in the 
coffee-room, but I don't think we can do 
more than that for you ; as for bedrooms, I 
don't know what to say about it at all ; what 
rooms do you want ? " 

Mr. Mossop is accustomed to be bowed 
down to and all but worshipped at the dif- 
ferent hotels that he honours with his custom. 
Ostentatiously large tips endear him to 
waiters and housemaids, while the landlords, 
to use their own words, ''put up with his 



92 A WANDERING STAR. 

bounce " in consideration of undisputed bills, 
and fabulous charges that are never even 
read over. He feels the difference keenly 
now. 

'' I am Mr. Mossop!— Mr. Mossop of The 
Towers ! " he says, full of fussy annoyance. 
But the fame of The Towers has not reached 
Great Pedlington, and conveys nothing to 
the barmaid's mind. She does not blench 
when he testily asks for an interview with 
the landlord, a fat, good-natured man, who 
presently appears on the scene with the air 
of one who has been disturbed in an after- 
dinner nap. He is more impressed with Mr. 
Mossop's importance than was his subordinate, 
for he at least has seen The Towers marked 
on the map of the county w^hich hangs in the 
bar. 

The result is, that a kind of scratch dinner 
is served up for them in the coffee-room, and 
fires are lighted in two ill-ventilated bed- 
rooms, whose stuffiness betokens that people 
eat and drink oftener than they sleep under 
that roof. 

Vega sits opposite Mr. Mossop at a small 



A WANDERING STAR. 93 

table ; the dinner is bad ; some belated bag- 
men have been dining freely at the next 
table, and their talk, not to mention their 
smug smiles and meaning leers in her direc- 
tion, annoy her almost as much as does the 
dirty waiter who will insist in calling her to 
Mr. Mossop " your good lady ! " 

" We must go home by the very first train," 
says Vega, before she says good-night to her 
companion, and mounts the grimy wooden 
stairs that lead to a bedroom that smells of 
apples. '' Please let us get away first thing 
to-morrow morning, as soon as we possibly 
can. 

Mr. Mossop is a heavy sleeper, and by no 
means given to early rising ; he does not see 
the point of getting up at six in the morning, 
and stands out for the eight train — a delay 
that Miss Fitzpatrick, much against her will, 
has to agree to. 

All night long has she longed for the morn- 
ing light and for the moment when she 
should find herself once more at Conholt ; 
but she does not feel very joyful once she 
gets there. No one is downstairs when she 



94 A WANDERING STAR. 

arrives, and the public rooms are In possession 
of the housemaids. Is it her fancy or not, 
that they look up at her as she passes them 
with half-concealed amusement, and stare 
just a little at her draggled frock, the golden 
locks that have been twisted up under her 
hat with more haste than care, and her 
generally woe-begone appearance ? 

The idea crimsons her cheeks, and she 
feels shame — shame for nothing ! She no 
longer rejoices that her troubles are over, 
that Mr. Mossop and she have parted com- 
pany at last, and that her adventure — a stupid, 
dreary one, indeed — Is ended, for she dimly 
sees that the worst of her troubles are before 
her. She mounts the great front staircase, 
and the steep back one, making straight for 
the schoolroom, where Pussie and Dottle 
receive her In their usual characteristic 
manner. Pussie, as usual. Is dull and apathe- 
tic, and it seems all one to her If her com- 
panion has been out all night or If she ever 
comes back at all. 

She takes no Interest In any one, hardly 
even In herself. 



A WANDERING STAR. 95 

All she seems to ask from life Is peace — • 
peace, and an unlimited supply of three- 
volumed novels. Dottie, on the other hand, 
is brimful of curiosity ; she dashes up to the 
travel-stained and dejected-looking figure 
standing at the door, drags her to the sofa, 
and simply overpowers her with questions. 
She hangs on every word of Vega's, so 
anxious is she to hear every particular of 
her adventure. 

She at least is not callous, she is even a 
little sorry, and there is some humanity in her 
voice, as she says frankly, but not unkindly : 
" I wouldn't be in your shoes, Vega, for the 
whole world. Aunt Julia Is simply rampant, 
and I am afraid you'll have an awful time of 
it with her." 



96 A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER III. 

" I've seen your stormy seas, and stormy women, 
And pity lovers rather more than seamen ! " 

It Is fortunate that unmitigated sinners 
and Immaculate saints are almost equally rare, 
for It would be hard to say which would be 
the most trying. 

Sinners without a redeeming grace, and 
saints warranted never to sin, would be 
equally monotonous. Indeed most of our 
actions, whether their principal bias is In 
favour of good or evil, have In them cross 
currents of virtue or vice, which stultify their 
simplicity and singleness of purpose. 

Lady Julia Damer would have considered 
herself Incapable of attempting to com- 
promise a girl, and that girl one who w^as 
living under her own roof; and she could 



A WANDERING STAR. 97 

have all but denied on oath any share In the 
accident that threw Vega FItzpatrIck into 
the society of Mr. Mossop the day of the 
pic-nic, and left her unprotected and alone in 
his company ; and her denial would have 
been all but true. 

She laid no deep plot, she hatched no 
cunning plan, and It was no part of her duty 
to herd her guests or to search for the stray 
ones. 

All the same she knew — knew before the 
special left the little road-side station — that 
Vega FItzpatrIck was not in it. She did 
not want to know beyond a doubt. She 
carefully avoided making a certainty of it, 
and even to her own mind she tried to slur 
over the possibility that the girl was missing. 

Missing indeed ! How could that be ? 
Surely everyone had gathered in the Castle 
yard before they started, or if there had 
been any laggards It must have been found 
out on the road to the station. 

At any rate she could not be expected to 
turn herself Into a kind of whipper-in to her 
party. People must look out for themselves 

VOL. II. H 



98 A WANDERING STAR. 

and she knew nothing about the occupants 
of the other saloon of the special. 

As she sat with a frown on her brow in 
the corner of her own particular carriage she 
tried to persuade herself that she did not 
know that Vega was missing. 

She made herself certain of that point 
when they reached the Conholt Park Station ; 
but she held her peace, and it was not till 
the weary party had reached home again that 
a hue and cry for the lost girl was made. 

Colonel Damer was horribly annoyed. 
He could not understand how her absence 
had not been noticed before, and his re- 
proaches to his wife were very unfortunate, 
for it gave her a chance of venting her wrath 
on some one, and in a measure of excusing 
herself to her own conscience. 

"Am I my brother's keeper?" was the 
burden of her defence ; and as most of the 
guests took it for granted that Mr. Mossop 
was engaged to Vega it did not seem to 
them such a serious business after all. 
Many jokes indeed were made on the sub- 
ject, and there was a great deal of talk about 



A WANDERING STAR. 99 

It — talk that Vega would have bitterly re- 
sented, for it all turned on the certainty 
that Mr. Mossop was her affianced hus- 
band. 

There is a knock at the schoolroom door 
about an hour after Vega has gained its 
friendly shelter, a rustle of silk as it opens, 
and her ladyship's own maid, the great 
Pinman, enters, her head in the air, and her 
thii>, bony hands folded stiffly in front of 
her, not sorry to be the bearer of an un- 
pleasant message to Miss Fitzpatrick. She 
neither likes nor dislikes Vega particularly, 
though she has all an upper servant's objec- 
tion to anyone, in the slightest degree an 
interloper, and she has also, in common with 
many other spinsters of forty, an instinctive 
aversion to anything particularly good-look- 
ing and attractive. But she does not forget 
the high words that passed at breakfast this 
morning in the housekeeper's room, between 
herself and the housekeeper on one side and 
the butler and the Colonel's own man, on the 
subject of Vega's misadventure, when the 
ladies had taken hio^h orround. 

H 2 



lOO A WANDERING STAR. 

*' If it had been one of the housemaids 
who had stayed out all night without leave,'* 
quoth Mrs. Titmass with authority, '* I 
should have had a word or two to say on 
the subject. She would have had to suit 
herself pretty quick. Conholt Park wouldn't 
have been the place for her, and, so far as I 
know, there isn't one law for our betters and 
one for our inferiors." Mrs. Titmass brackets 
herself In neither class, but evidently con- 
siders that housekeepers are a race apart. 
" I know nothing about this Miss Fltz- 
patrick as the Colonel has taken up, and 
I'll take your word, Mr. BIckerstaff, that 
she's pretty, but if It's her way to rampage 
about the country all night with a single 
gentleman, well, all I can say Is, /ler ways 
are not 7nj/ ways — no, nor Miss PInman's 
either, are they, dear ? " which, all things 
considered, is not very wonderful ! 

Pinman remembers all this as she stands 
at the schoolroom door, and the tone of 
voice in which she addresses Miss FItz- 
patrick is sour and harsh. " Her ladyship's 
compliments, and she would be obliged If 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 01 

Miss FItzpatrick would step down to her 
boudoir in about half an hour." 

Vega turns pale, and her large eyes are 
full of fear as she looks at Pinman's in- 
scrutable face. 

*' What is going to happen, Pinman ? " - 
asks Dottle boldly, for long familiarity with 
her aunt's maid has cast out fear, and Pin- 
man, who has known her from infancy and 
watched her through her beauty stage, when 
she made such an excellent chaperon to her 
mother, up to her present neglected girl- 
hood, has always had a certain sort of affec- 
tion for Miss Dottle. " Don't look so cross, 
Pinny," she goes on, " but tell us what you 
know. Is aunt Julia very angry ? I wouldn't 
be you, Vega, at the present moment, for 
anything you could give me. She can't 
kill you, and that's about all that can be 
said." 

" What nonsense you do talk. Miss Dottle, 
to be sure," returns Pinman. ''If folks 
behave themselves properly they have no 
cause to be afraid of her ladyship, or any- 
onQ else, for that matter;" and she stalks 



I02 A WANDERING STAR. 

Stiffly from the room, glad to have been able 
to fire a parting shot on the side of virtue. 

''Oh! here you are," says Lady Julla^ as 
Vega, with trembling footsteps, enters her 
boudoir half an hour later, '' back at last ! I 
really thought you were not coming back to 
Conholt any more. May I Inquire when you 
returned here — where you got to, and what 
you were about last night ? " 

Lady Julia s trumpet gives forth no uncer- 
tain sound — it is the note of battle, and as 
such does Vega understand it. So does 
Lady Hermione, who is sitting in the window, 
knitting as if for dear life. She smiles a 
mysterious smile to herself as she hears her 
sister's words, for she knows she is not one 
to let her victim off easily. Lady Julias 
slumbers were not sweet last night — her angry 
feelings would not let her rest, and her con- 
science would not be lulled into quiescence ; 
she is jaded and weary this morning, and 
not in a mood to be likely to err on the side 
of clemency. 

*' It was all an accident — all a mistake/' 
says Vega, in a very shaky voice. Her 



A WANDERING STAR. IO3 

courage will come back to her soon, but just 
at first she Is daunted. '' You know, Lady 
JuHa, that I couldn't help it." 

"That is what people always say when 
they have done something very outrageous," 
returns Lady Julia, who, for about the first 
time in her life, finds herself ranged on the 
side of respectability; ''perhaps it doesn't 
strike you as anything so very dreadful to 
stay out all night long in the company of 
a young man." (Lady Hermione's smile 
almost becomes a laugh as she hears Mr. 
Mossop thus described !) '' It is all a question 
of bringing up. Such behaviour may be all 
right at Dieppe, but it won't do here. The 
whole place is ringing with it. The very 
servants are scandalized." 

Vega is no meek saint, and her spirit rises 
when she hears herself so unjustly accused, 
and condemned with such wicked harshness. 
It is in a voice almost as firm as Lady Julia's 
own that she answers her: *'You hiozu it 
was not my fault, Lady Julia. You /enow 
I would have given anything rather than 
such a thing should have happened. I have 



104 A WANDERING STAR. 

been perfectly miserable ever since the 
moment when I found you had gone away 
and left me behind with Mr. Mossop ; but if 
it was all to come over again, I couldn't help 
it, and you know I couldn't." 

" The girl shows fight," thinks her 
opponent, and in her heart of hearts she 
respects her for it. Aloud she says : '' It's a 
bad business, all the same — a very bad busi- 
ness. Many a girl has lost her character for 
less. Whether you were in the wrong or 
not, is a matter that rests entirely with your 
own conscience. What the world will say 
is my affair ; for though you and I are 
nothing to each other, still, as long as you 
remain under this roof, there must be no 
scandal of any sort. I shall make it my busi- 
ness to stop all the talk and the gossip ; but 
even I can only stop it in oneway, and that way 
I have no doubt you perfectly understand." 

"No, Lady Julia, indeed I don't," says 
the girl, in a happier tone, for the conver- 
sation seems to have taken a pleasanter turn, 
and the fury of the battle is already spent. 

" It may be all very pretty to pose as the 



A WANDERING STAR. IO5 

innocent," sneers Lady Julia, " but you must 
be perfectly aware of Mr. Mossop's feelings 
towards you. Miss Fitzpatrick. He has not 
taken very much trouble to conceal them. 
He never left your side yesterday, and every- 
body insisted then that you must be engaged 
to him. Fortunately, I neither confirmed nor 
denied the idea. I have only to say now that 
they were right, that you are really going to 
marry him, and all the ill-natured gossip over 
your escapade falls to the ground. It will 
even be considered rather a good joke that 
an engaged couple were so oblivious of time 
that they forgot everything when they were 
together. It is one thing to wander about 
the country with your affianced husband, and 
quite another thing to be missing with a man 
who is nothing in the world to you. In one 
case you have only enjoyed a somewhat pre- 
mature tete-a-tete — in the other you lose your 
character." 

" But — but," stammers Vega, her com- 
posure breaking a little, and speaking ' in 
quick, scared tones, *' you mustn't say any- 
thing of the sort. Mr. Mossop is nothing to 



I06 A WANDERING STAR. 

me — I don't want to have anything to do 
with him." 

'' My dear young lady," says Lady JuHa, 
looking her full in the face, her black eyes 
flashing at the bare idea that anyone so 
young, so friendless, and so dependent should 
have the audacity to stand up against her, 
*' you must look matters steadily in the face. 
You have got into a mess, and you must get 
out of it as best you can. You have no 
option ; there is no alternative, so far as I 
can see. You have been imprudent — 
singularly Imprudent, let us say. No ! no ! 
I don't want an argument, and I refuse to 
enter into a wordy war with you about the 
amxount of blame that should fall to your 
share. Whether Innocent or guilty, no one 
can afford to compromise themselves as you 
have done. But even if one puts all that on 
one side, may I Inquire what your future plans 
are ? Your visit to us must come to an end 
some day. Where do you think of going ? " 

Where, indeed ? The child Is friendless 
■ — poor — utterly alone ; and for such there is 
little hope In this world. 



A WANDERING STAR. I07 

Tears fill her eyes — all the colour leaves 
her sweet cheeks, and forsakes her lips but 
now so dewy red — she hides her poor little 
face in her hands, and weeps. Who has she 
to turn to ? No one — no one in this world, 
and heaven seems a long wav off. 

Lady Hermione looks up from her knit- 
ting for a moment. Just so might the 
tricotenses, who sat in the Place de la 
Republique (late Louis Ouinze), have stop- 
ped in their work, as they watched the 
Aristocrats mounting the fatal ladder, and 
counted the heads as they rolled into the 
basket. 

There is no more feeling In her heart than 
there was in theirs. 

The needles cease to click, and she marks 
the progress of events — that is all ! 

Lady Julia is hardly as unfeeling, although 
her temper is less under her control, and 
she Is more violent than her sister. 

" Come, come ! this is all nonsense. Miss 
Fitzpatrick," she says in not quite such 
harsh and dictatorial tones as she has 
spoken in before. " You are not a fool, by 



lOS A WANDERING STAR. 

any means ; and you must know I am only 
speaking for your own good. Putting the 
very unfortunate incident of last night 
entirely on one side — you must surely see 
that, in your position, a home — and a 
pleasant one — and a husband — and a very 
rich one — are not to be despised ! Mr. 
Mossop will make you perfectly happy. 
He has already spoken to me half a dozen 
times about you, and you must let me tell 
him it is all right." 

Vega looks up. What does it matter 
what happens to such a friendless creature 
as herself ? What chance has she ever had 
in this world ? Where "is deliverance to 
come from ? 

She sees but one way of escape, and that 
but a poor one ; still she must not throw it 
away. 

" Give me a week to make up my mind, 
Lady Julia," she says in a low, but resolute, 
voice. ''I must have a week" — for she 
remembers the promises of her Dieppe 
friends, the Bushes, and she means to see 
what they can do for her. 



A WANDERING STAR. IO9 

So the interview ends. Lady Julia tries 
to make herself believe that she has had 
Vega s good at heart, and that real kindness 
to the girl has inspired her words. She also 
tries to make Lady Hermlone believe the 
same ; but the unbelieving smile returns to 
her sister's face, and she does not go on 
trying for long. 

A pitiful little letter leaves Conholt the 
same evening, addressed to Major Bushe. 
Perhaps, indeed, it would have been more 
politic if Vega had not made it quite so 
pitiful, or told them how forlorn she 
was — letting them see that her return 
to Dieppe and to them would make 
a regular break between herself and Lady 
Julia. 

Mrs. Bushe has a strong instinct of self- 
preservation ; and reads between the lines 
that their guest would not be a very paying 
one. 

The Bushe family, to whom an annual 
crisis has ever been part of their financial 
year, and an event which, though unplea- 
sant, Is only to be expected, have just 



no A WANDERING STAR. 

passed through one of more than usual 
severity. jtst- 

Creditors have battered-. at ; the doors of 
" Mongplaisir," writs- -. frqisn ..the remote 
County Clare have come to them from over 
the seas, and "everyone has been down on 
them at once," in the words.of, Major Bushe, 
who speaks of his duns in much the same spirit 
of pious resignation thatian< early Christian 
would have alluded to the. wild animals who 
were about to tear him limb from limb. 

In few words, the Bushes are at the 
lowest of low- water mark, and things are in 
such a bad way that they are on the eve 
of a move to 'Afresh woods and pastures 
new." hr 

*' Mongplaisir" will soon be a thing of the 
past, to be referred to when the bygone 
glories of the Bushe family are the subject 
of conversation, and to be enlarged and 
beautified by imagination till it becomes 
almost unrecognizable, and as much 
touched up as are the glowing pictures of 
Ballymassaggart. In other words, they 
mean to shake the dust of Dieppe from their 



A WANDERING STAR. I I I 

shoes, and to leave that ungrateful place to 
take care of itself. 

Mrs. Bushe and the o-Irls have set their 
hearts on going to Nancy, which, according 
to Mrs. Bushe, combines the advantages of 
" food moderate, and wine just for nothing, 
the cheapest furnished apartments in all 
France, and the best of military society for 
Norah and Annabella." 

Major Bushe objects to their choice prin- 
cipally for the reason that he does not 
believe that a soul in the County Clare 
knows anything about the place, and that, at 
any rate, he will stake his existence that 
" not a bhoy in the barony of Ballymassag- 
gart " has ever heard of the important 
fortified town of Nancy ! 

The Misses Bushe, however, overrule 
this objection by reminding their father that, 
as he has had, to quote his own words, 
*' divll a ha'p'orth of rint " from Ballymas- 
saggart In the last ten years, the views of Its 
inhabitants, as regards their place of resi- 
dence, need not be studied. Nay, more ! 
that as the good-natured Major would be 



112 A WANDERING STAR. 

very likely to be made Into a mark for his 
attached tenantry to shoot at, should he 
ever set his foot In the barony again, they 
were free to live at Nancy, even should the 
whole of the County Clare profess Its Ignor- 
ance of such a place ! 

" An' could we not take the pore little 
gy-url — pore little Vega — along with us, If 
we do go to that outlandish place ? Why 
shouldn't the choild go to Nancy with us. If 
Nancy It Is to be ? ' 

Mrs. Bushe is the mouthpiece of her 
daughters, who have scouted the very Idea 
of another girl — and that one a great deal 
better - looking than themselves — being 
added to their already over-long train. She 
also, poor soul, does not feel Inclined to bind 
another burden on her already over- 
weighted shoulders, and to add a non-paying 
member to their family circle. 

'' It's not to be thought of, Domenic, at 
all — at all," says his Jemima with some 
asperity; ''ar'n't we just worn out and kilt 
entirely by trying to make ends meet as it 
is ? They never do meet — they can't — but 



A WANDERING STAR. II3 

if the gap between the two ends gets any 
bigger, why ! we'll be In a greater mess 
than we are now. No, no ! Domenic ; charity 
begins at home, and till we are all back again 
at Ballymassaggart, we mustn't even think of 
entertaining." 

If Vega's visit Is postponed till they return 
to that tumble-down abode, and till the 
gates of the *' demesne" once more '' rowl 
back " to receive the rightful Lords of the 
Soil, it Is likely to be put off for ever. Mrs. 
Bushe, however, really does believe In their 
eventual return, though even she considers 
it vague enough to make it safe for them to 
defer Vega's visit till then. 

" Sit down, Domenic, and write the poor 
little girl a letter — do as I tell you, now. 
You must give her good advice ; and tell her 
to stay where she is, and not to take it into 
her head to quarrel with koind friends. They 
are koind friends to her, Domenic, whatever 
ye may say. The Colonel was too high and 
mighty, and too English altogether for my 
taste, but thin all the English that I have 
ever seen were cold and formal like that. 

VOL. II. I 



114 A WANDERING STAR. 

It's not their faults, poor things. All the 

same, he was a good sort of man, and Vega 

ought to thank her stars she is where she is. 

She Is living on the fat of the land, and their 

stiff ways can be nothing to her, for she's as 

stiff as they are. Here's a pen, Domenic, 

and here's a sheet of folne white paper, and 

now if we could only get some ink — 

Melanie ! Melanie ! de I'en-ker pour 

Monsieur le Major ! Oh ! here it is," as 

Melanie enters, stirring the ink bottle with a 

hen's feather, for, the fluid having run short, 

''a drain of water" is the usual recipe at 

" Mon Plaisir " to make up In quantity what 

it lacks in blackness. '' Now beein, 

Domenic dear." So Domenic begins. Like 

most Irishmen he has a ready pen as well as 

a ready tongue, and he is so enamoured with 

his own wisdom, and the '' iligant " way in 

which he expresses himself, that he makes 

his letter longer than he at first intended. 

''I was right glad to hear from you, my dear 
girl," it begins, " and to find that in all your splendour 
and grandeur you have still a thought to waste on the 
poor Bushes. And you have no better friends, my 
dear, though I say it as shouldn't. You are just like one 



A WANDERING STAR. II5 

of the family, and I wish indeed that we could welcome 
you back to little Mon Plaisir. But, alas ! Mon Plaisir 
is a thing of the past. Even this humble roof has been 
torn from over our heads, and we are driven from the 
home we love so well, by the unkindness and spite of 
those with whom we have dealt for the last ten years. 
I have been on the best of terms with them all, and now 
they turn on me and rend me. The long and the short 
of it is, Vega, that we must fly — fly to Nancy. I don't 
mean any joke. It is to no female acquaintance that a 
respectable married man like me would turn in his need, 
but to the large garrison town of Nancy, in the Depart- 
ment of — well ! shure, I've clean forgot what Depart- 
ment it's in, and what odds if I have ? No one wants to 
know ! Anyhow ! we're going to settle there. The girls 
want a little fun, and small blame to them at their age — 
indeed they've long had their eye on a place where there 
were plenty of soldiers, and they tell me that Nancy's 
alive with them. Perhaps, too, the tradespeople there 
will know a gentleman when they see him, and not come 
down on me for a trifle just when they know I can't 
raise a halfpenny. But it will be a hand-to-mouth 
existence just at first, my dear, and I wouldn't think it 
right to take you from all the glories of this world, and 
all the grandeurs you now enjoy, and ask you to share 
it. No, no, Vega ! you're better where you are, and 
that you may never be worse off, is the earnest prayer of 
" Your affectionate, but unfortunate friend, 

'• DOMENIC BUSHE. 

'•'P.S. — I know the Colonel is always on the look-out 
for pictures, and what little Denis here calls ' brickle- 
brackle.' Will you ask him, with my compliments, if he 

I 2 



Il6 A WANDERING STAR. 

would feel inclined to make an offer for two fine family 
portraits, at least eighty years old, and the work of the 
great Mahoney ? You'd be doing us both a good turn, 
my darling, if you could arrange it. The Colonel would 
have two grand works of art, which I never thought to 
part with, and I would be the better of a little ready 
money, once I get to Nancy." 



A ^YAXLERING STAR. II 



CHAPTER IV. 

It was but a forlorn hope to expect help 
from the Bushes ; but when Vega reads the 
IMajor's letter she feels as if her last chance 
were gone. 

She gets it on the evening of a day when 
all the house Is In a bustle, except Indeed the 
inmates of the schoolroom, who are more 
neglected than ever. Lady Julia is going to 
give a dance, prior to the break-up of her 
smart Whitsuntide party, and her own 
departure to town ; a dance which does not 
include the " frumps " who dwell around, but 
at which almost all the guests wall be of Lady 
Julia's own world. 

" Surely when one comes down to the 
country for Whitsuntide one has every right 
to amuse oneself," has been her answer to 
her husband, when he suggested the names 



Il8 A WANDERING STAR. 

of a few neighbours who had always been 
friends of the family, and who, in common 
politeness, should be asked. '' At Christmas 
— even at Easter — one has to sacrifice oneself 
and ask the rag-tag and bobtail, but this is a 
small dance, and for once in a way got up for 
our own amusement. I utterly refuse to 
have it spoilt." 

'' You'll make a good lot of enemies by it, 
I expect," says Colonel Damer, grimly ; '' but 
you must please yourself. And Mossop," he 
says, looking over her list once more, *' is he 
not good enough ? After all the use you 
make of him, I wonder you have the face to 
leave him out. I thought you intended to 
sacrifice poor little Vega to him. You told 
me they were as good as engaged. How 
can you pass him over } " 

" I'll tell you how," says Lady Julia, look- 
ing her husband full in the face, for she is 
far too imperious a lady to allow her plans to 
be criticised. '' He's been sent to London — 
by me — for a week. Vega, as you say, is 
practically engaged to him, but, like the 
regular country miss, she wishes to make 



A WANDERING STAR. II9 

herself all the more valued by keeping him 
on tenter-hooks. She says he shall have his 
answer in a week. He knows, she knows, 
we all know, what that answer will be. She is 
the last girl to say ' No ' to eight thousand a 
year, and ' The Towers ' to boot ; but if she 
likes to play the part of the second-rate 
coquette, well ! it hurts no one. I am to see 
him in town in a day or two, when I get up, 
and am to give him the girl's answer, which, 
in plain English, will be yes. In the mean- 
time, I get off having him at my dance to- 
night, where he would have been utterly out 
of place. Ha ! ha ! Fancy Mr. Mossop in a 
domino and mask." 

'' A domino and mask. My dear Julia, 
what on earth are you talking about ? " 
asks the Colonel, looking very much sur- 
prised. 

" Oh ! did I not tell you, " says her lady- 
ship, carelessly, '' that Lady Gornaway wrote 
begging for masks and dominoes for the 
first half of the evening. She said it -would 
be so very amusing, and could only be done 
at a small dance where there were no out- 



I20 A WANDERING STAR. 

siders. I thought It was a capital Idea, so 
I mean to carry It out. Don't look so 
afflicted, Reginald, It won't affect you. The 
ladles only are to be masqued ; It will be 
rather fun to '' Intriguer " the men ; Lady 
Gornaway won't let the grass grow under 
her feet, I expect." 

It seems to be always the lot of the three 
girls to look on while their elders and betters 
amuse themselves, and this evening, as usual, 
Pussle and Dottle Langton, and Vega FItz- 
patrIck, are spectators of the revels In which 
they may not join. They are well amused, 
however, as they stand In their usual corner 
in the gallery that encircles the round hall 
and watch the arrival on the scene of 
masqued and muffled ladles, and mystified 
men. Lady Julia has called It a small ball, 
but the hall soon fills, for the guests arrive 
with unusual punctuality, and evidently wish 
to take part In the fun from the beginning. 

Though a domino may be but a shapeless 
disguise, and though the plainest face In the 
world may be hidden by a black mask, 
provided only the lace that conceals the 



A WANDERING STAR. 121 



mouth be long enough, still, a masked ball is 
a brilliant sight — at any rate, to look down 
on ! Subdued shades are not the order of 
the day, nor artistically-blended tints. One 
colour, and one alone, is affected by each 
reveller, and they all seem to have been 
chosen for their brightness and brilliancy. 
The whole scene in the hall, where they 
are to dance, is one of gaiety ; and 
its setting is in keeping with the occasion. 
Round each crested helmet and burnished 
breast-plate and shield and spear that hang 
on the panelled walls of the round hall 
are twined wreaths of roses, and the 
oak railing of the gallery where the girls 
stand is garlanded with flowers ; the floor 
looks black and shining, like the keenest 
ice ; the musicians are in a recess : every- 
thing is ready. And now the guests arrive. 
Here come two white dominoes — dominoes 
which are not so very shapeless after all ; 
for, somehow, no one can have any doubt 
that their wearers are slim and slender, or 
that the heads are pretty ones, round which 
white lace mantillas are twisted, and which 



122 A WANDERING STAR. 

droop over faces which they entirely hide. 
There Is an atmosphere of ''pretty woman" 
about these white figures which is not beHed 
by the lovely feet in fairy shoes embroidered 
In pearls, which peep in and out of the long 
cloaks that diso-ulse their owners. 

A pale blue domino comes next. The 
wearer is petite, at any rate, and she carries 
a large bouquet of forget-me-nots ; but, 
beyond that, there Is nothing to be made 
out, for she disguises her voice and talks in 
broken English. 

A figure In a scarlet satin domino, with 
the hood well drawn over her head, stands 
at least an inch or two taller than her 
fellows, and, from the height, the set of the 
head, and the shape of the handsome 
shoulders, the guests make certain it is their 
hostess. But its red folds conceal Lady 
Hermione ; and her sister, in black satin, 
her head muffled In black lace, passes almost 
unnoticed. This is as she wishes, and she 
rejoices in her disguise ; for she means it to 
be useful to her before the night is over. 

Some of the men wear masks, a few are 



A WANDERING STAR. I 23 

in fancy dress, but there is no hard and fast 
rule — a fact which seems to give the whole 
thing twice as much go as if it were a more 
formal affair. Every one is a law unto him 
or her self ; for once, English reserve 
and stiffness are banished ; spirits rise ; 
people who never talked nonsense before 
begin now ; and ladies of the strictest virtue, 
under cover of the friendly mask, make 
violent love to men they hardly know. One 
or two, more daring still, make love to other 
people's property : it is allowable to poach 
behind a mask, and it is an excellent excuse 
for anything. 

A masked quadrille opens the ball, and 
the girls who bend boldly over the railings, 
certain to escape the observation and black 
looks of their elders to-night, have never, in 
their lives, seen anything so perfect in its 
way as the group of masked men and 
women in Louis Ouinze dress, who are the 
cynosure of all eyes. 

The brocades and satins — the priceless 
lace — the waving fans — but, above all, the 
diamonds, that flash on powdered heads, 



124 A WANDERING STAR. 

clasp slender necks, and gleam In stomacher 
and ruffle, are magnificent ; and the masked 
guests, as they crowd around, add to the 
picturesque effect. 

" Look, look, Vega ! There goes Aunt 
Julia ! — No, that's the Mums." 

'' No, Pussle, you're wrong again. You 
can never make out anything or anyone. 
Bijou made the Mums wear her red domino 
to-night — lucky for the Mums, for she has 
got the best of the bargain for once. Don't 
you see Aunt Julia now — coming Into the 
room In Mums' old black satin domino ?' 
She's whispering to Brian Beresford ; and 
he's very much surprised and quite flabber- 
gasted at what she's saying to him. He 
hasn't a notion who It Is, for, somehow, one 
can't Imagine Aunt Julia In that shabby 
domino. Dear me ! what fun It must be to 
take people In like that ! and how I should 
love to be doing It ! I could tell people all 
sorts of funny things, that they think no one 
can possibly know ! I know a vast deal 
more than they think ; for when one is 
utterly out of It, one can watch and listen 



A WANDERING STAR. I 25 

If I had a mask and domino, I would go 
straleht to Brian Beresford and make love 
to him, just as Aunt Julia Is doing ; wouldn't 
you, Vega ? There Is no one In the world 
like him. He is so out-and-out handsome, 
and such a darling ! I would follow him 
round the world, If he would only let me — If 
he would only take me with him the next 
time he goes off." 

** You are not to talk such nonsense — you 
know how angry the Mums would be," says 
Pussie, mechanically. 

She has so often said the same sentence, 
and It has never had the smallest effect on 
her younger sister. 

** I daresay," says Dottle, Indifferently, 
^* the Mums likes to talk all the nonsense 
herself She Is a capital hand at It, when 
she's not trying to pinch and screw and get 
something out of somebody. But there's no 
one to hear me here but you and Vega ; and 
you two don't count, so, surely, I may talk 
as I like. Just look at them waltzing ! 
Oh, what wouldn't I give to be swinging 
round in Brian Beresford's arms, like that ! 



126 A WANDERING STAR. 

How I wish I was Aunt Julia at this moment 
They seem so awfully happy I and they go 
flying along as if they had wings. I wonder 
if I will have as good a time as she has 
when I am her age. How splendidly they 
do dance too^ether ! and how handsome — 
how beautiful he is looking ! " 

*' I wonder if you will ever stop talking, 
Dottie," says Pussie, querulously. " You 
make my head ache worse than ever. It 
was bad enough before I came down ; and 
now the noise and the lights and your loud 
voice have made it twenty times worse. I 
can't bear it any longer — I shall go to bed." 

Pussie's pale, bloodless little face is drawn 
with neuralgia, and she departs forthwith. 
Dottie and Vega still keep their ground, and 
Dottie's tongue never rests, or her eyes 
either. She makes out who is who, with a 
sharpness worthy of a better object. She 
spies flirtations, imagines assignations, ac- 
cuses people who have no business to flirt 
of the most violent love-making, and through 
all her talk runs an undercurrent of anger 
that, young and eager as they both are, they 



A WANDERING STAR. I 27 

should be excluded from a scene in which dieir 
elders mean to permit no one to enter who 
could possibly interfere with their own 
pleasure. She inveighs against their self- 
ishness, she vows that she will have her 
revenge some day, and at last, tired of talk- 
ing and of looking at other people amusing 
themselves, she, too, goes off to bed. 

Why does Vega linger ? Is she not yet 
tired of looking down on the brilliant scene, 
and will the strains of dance music, no 
matter how divinely played, not pall on her 
in the end ? The truth is, she hardly hears 
the music, she hardly looks at the dancing ; 
her eyes seek out one face, and they follow 
one man as he dances, or talks, or whispers, 
or makes love, now to this mask, now to that. 

She thinks of no one but Brian, and of 
the night when she, too, danced with him 
a la belle etoile. Then he seemed to be all 
hers, as they waltzed to the sound of noisy 
music under the waving boughs of the trees 
on Dartmouth Green. She feels she would 
give a dozen years of her life for such 
another dance, and a feelino^ bitterer even 



128 A WANDERING STAR. 

than that felt by Dottle against those who 
keep her away from him fills her heart. 
Why should she be treated like an outcast — 
a pariah ? What had she done to deserve it? 

Now that Dottle has left her she feels 
lonelier than ever, for her companion's 
stream of talk, annoying as it was, had at 
least kept her from brooding ; and even the 
exaggerated light in which Dottie had 
looked at everything had, by reason of its 
very absurdity, prevented her from taking 
things so hardly. She feels utterly forlorn 
now, her eyes are tired of watching, her 
heart is heavy. Brian is no longer dancing ; 
she is worn out, and had better go to bed. 
She leans on the railings, forgetful that any 
roving glance from below may espy her, she 
feels so apart from everyone. Some tears 
come into her blue eyes, and fall unheeded 
on the garland of roses and marguerites that 
are twined along the balustrade. 

Beresford at that moment enters the ball- 
room, and for a wonder he is alone. Some- 
thing makes him look up, and though he 
hardly sees her drooping face, he knows by 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 26 

every line of her slim body that it is his little 
love of last autumn who is standing there 
so sad and melancholy — the girl who Lady 
Julia assures him is in the seventh heaven 
of happiness, and who is on the eve of a 
rich and fortunate marriage. He has already 
asked for her, and the impression has been 
conveyed to his mind that in the absence of 
her future husband she has no wish to amuse 
herself. She may be pining for him at this 
minute for all he knows, and yet he does not 
believe that it is love for Mr. Mossop that 
makes her look so disconsolate now. For a 
few minutes he watches Vega — there is no 
doubt that she is alone and unhappy, even 
though he does not see her tears. He knows 
every inch of Conholt, he could find his way 
about it in the dark ; and he remembers a 
narrow staircase by which, without being 
seen, he can reach the gallery on which she 
stands. A minute more, and the two are 
there together face to face. 

The tears are still on Vega's cheeks, but 
the eyes that meet his are no longer sad. A 
minute ago and they were drowned In tears ; 

VOL. II. K 



I30 A WANDERING STAR. 

she was weeping, not loudly or noisily, but 
in a sad, hopeless kind of way. Now sorrow 
has no place In her heart ; there seems no 
room for grief, for with the sudden revulsion 
of feeling, possible only in the very young, 
her heart leaps within her for joy when she 
sees who Is standing beside her. 

It was all a mistake ! She was not for- 
saken or neglected ! She Is not an outcast 
any longer, for Brian Beresford has sought 
her and found her, and she asks nothing 
more from life ! 

They stand hand clasped In hand for a 
minute ; a joyful minute that Is worth a year 
of every-day existence. She has become 
suddenly, utterly happy, with a happiness 
that leaves no room for thought, for pru- 
dence, for calculation. Lady Julia may be 
a thousand miles away for all she knows or 
cares. Lady Hermlone Is as If she did not 
exist; and as for Mr. Mossop — poor Mr.Mos- 
sop ! — well, it must be owned that his broad, 
uninteresting countenance does not In that 
supreme moment rise up between her and 
the goodly features of her love! It may 



A WANDERING STAR. 131 

be wrong, it no doubt is so ; but for such a 
moment there have been some who would 
barter their soul's salvation. 

*' My own little darling ! " he begins — he 
offers no more formal greeting — " I have found 
you at last ! " and he triumphs exceedingly. 

Lady Julia, Mr. Mossop, every considera- 
tion of prudence or worldly wisdom have 
been powerless to part him from Vega, and 
everything is once more the same as before. 
The clock seems to have been put back with 
a vengeance by them*. Once more they are 
the same as when they wandered in the 
green lanes of Devonshire, or danced to- 
gether on Dartmouth Green, or sailed over 
blue seas in the Gi^ana, the same as before 
they were parted. 

" They have told me all sorts of things 
about you," he goes on, his happy eyes feeding 
hungrily on the exceeding fairness of his 
love, so that he hardly knows what he is 
saying ; '' but I never believed them." (Oh ! 
Brian, Brian!) ''They were not true, were 
they ? " 

" No ! no ! " she says, as if in a dream ; 

K 2 



132 A WANDERING STAR. 

she does not know what he means ; what he 
is talking about ; her pulses are beating too 
fast and furiously for steady thought. 

''And why have they kept you up here? 
Why are you not dancing downstairs like the 
rest ?" They have drawn back from the flower- 
decked railing. Unconsciously they avoid 
the chance of unfriendly eyes from below 
roving in their direction. They lean against 
the wall hand in hand like a pair of children. 

Vega laughs ; there has not been so much 
mirth in her laughter since she came to Con- 
holt. She looks down at her worn black 
frock, its frayed edges, and its shining seams, 
and she shakes her pretty head. 

'' Would you like to have seen me in the 
character of Cinderella? I should have 
dearly loved to have had one dance — just 
one. It has been maddening to listen to the 
music up here, but it's no use wishing for 
what one can't get. I know it's utterly im- 
possible." 

He looks at her critically ; even to a mans 
eye she is not fitly dressed to join the dancers. 
There is no doubt about it. He looks at her 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 33 

from the top of her head, on which the golden 
hair is all ruffled and, as it were, blown about, 
down to the shabby little shoes that all but 
hide the beauty of her slender feet. He is glad 
to have the excuse of so looking, but when the 
survey is over, he is not able to assure her that 
as regards dress she may pass muster in the 
hall below. 

*' Can't you put on something else ? " he 
asks, ''a white frock? anything would do. 
The ball isn't half over. You have plenty 
of time to change. Do run upstairs, like a 
darling. Put on anything, and I will wait 
for you here." 

She laughs again, but not so mirthfully as 
before. 

*' And what would my reception from Lady 
Julia be if I took your advice ? I don't know. 
I can't imagine; but of this I am quite certain, 
that I shouldn't be down stairs long. Brian, 
you must be mad, or you must have forgotten 
Lady Julia even to dream of such a thing." 

" My poor little darling ! my poor child ! 
They don't treat you well." He looks down 
on the dancers, and then turns to her sud- 



134 ^ WANDERING STAR. 

denly, with the air of one who is inspired, 
while his face is gay with smiles. *' What 
have I been thinking about ? This night of 
all nights it can be done. Yes ; Vega ! I 
promise you we shall have a dance together ; 
such a dance as never was ; down there, 
among them all ; and Lady Julia herself 
shall not so much as know that you are 
there. I am an idiot not to have thought of 
it sooner. What are masks and dominoes for 
if not for concealment ? Give me five 
minutes — two minutes ; promise me not to 
leave this spot, and In that time I shall be 
back with them both ; and then," joyously, 
" a fig for them all ! You see a few of the 
people have taken off their disguise, and all 
the Louis Quinze people, at any rate, came 
in masks and dominoes. I shall have a dozen, 
at least, to choose from In the cloak room. 
The great Pinman was off guard there half 
an hour ago, and a pretty little housemaid is 
left in charge. It will be odd to me if I 
don't get the loan of a cloak and a mask 
from her." 

It would be odd indeed ! The female sex 



A AVANDERING STAR. . 1 35 

do not as a rule long hold out against the 
fascinations of Brian Beresford ; he has pretty- 
much his own way with them, and on this 
occasion, whether it is his beattx yettx, or his 
flattering w^ords, or a small piece of gold that 
somehow finds its way into the hand of the 
pretty housemaid, or a combination of all 
these, it is certain that the five minutes he 
stipulated for are not over before he dashes 
upstairs with a black domino over his arm. 

*' No, no, Vega ; you know nothing about 
dominoes! I must dress you," so he wraps 
her in the long cloak, which, excellent dis- 
guise as it is, has a certain grace about it, 
not to mention a delicious indescribable per- 
fume, which marks it as the property of some 
coquettish dame. He ties the knots of pink 
ribbon under her chin, and down the whole 
front of her cloak, till he kneels at her feet like 
the lover that he is ; he fastens the friendly 
mask securely over her small face, the lace 
fortunately being long enough to hide the 
pretty mouth and everything but quite an 
insignificant bit of white chin ; then he draws 
the long hood right over her head till the 



136 A WANDERING STAR. 

eyes are in shadow, and then his handiwork 
is complete. 

** Stay, stay, one moment!" he says de- 
lightedly, and he breaks off a spray of the 
pink roses that are twined round the railing 
of the gallery, and fastens them close to the 
slender throat. In his eyes. In spite of all 
disguise, she still looks actually beautiful ; but 
fortunately for her, the more Indifferent would 
see nothing to distinguish her in any way 
from the other masks. He gives her no 
time to think, but opens a door that com- 
municates with a wide corridor, and they pass 
through. 

There are a good many people resting, 
flirting, idling, in the corridor, and Vega 
feels as if she must sink to the earth with 
fright. The colour rushes to her face ; she 
blushes furiously behind her mask ; her feet 
totter ; the hand that rests on Brian's arm 
trembles ; she feels as if every eye was 
turned on her — her, the interloper, the un- 
invited guest ! Her eyes seek the ground^ 
and she hardly dares to raise them. 

Some merry voices at last make her look 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 37 

Up. A blue domino, followed by two men, 
is talking and laughing with a gaiety and a 
zest which is rather French than English. 
They all seem in a hurry, and, full of life and 
spirits, are dashing down the corridor. They 
all but jostle Vega as they tear along ; but, 
to her surprise and joy, she sees that they do 
not give her a second look. They next pass 
a pair who do not appear to be particularly 
engrossed with each other, and who look at 
them in an indifferent sort of way, but they 
evidently see nothing remarkable in the 
closely-masked and hooded figure who walks 
beside Beresford, and Vega's heart gives 
one joyful thump — she realizes that she is 
safe. 

A scarlet satin domino now comes towards 
them, and at sight of her Brian whispers 
to Vega, " Be sure not to speak — no- 
thing can betray you but your voice ; or, if 
you are obliged to give an answer, talk in 
French." 

The red domino makes as if it would stop 
them, but Brian eludes the attempt, and the 
next moment he and his partner become 



1^8 A WANDERING STAR. 



J 



actors in the scene of which Vega had so 
lately been a disconsolate spectator. 

The first deep, almost mournful, notes of 
the loveliest of waltzes fall on their ears, and 
Brian and Vega, as they dance together, 
hardly know if it is in heaven or on earth 
that '' Thine for ever " is being played. 

For her at least the joy of life has reached 
its climax ; her tide is at its flood, and never, 
no, never ! if she live to be a hundred — if 
all the glories of this world, and the love of 
man be laid at her feet, will she be nearer 
perfect happiness ! 

Their steps — their hearts — their every 
pulse beat in unison, while the spice of 
danger, the dread of discovery, give the one 
keen touch that is needed. 

Not till the last notes are wailed out do 
they stop dancing. "It is over now," she 
whispers, in unsteady sort of tones ; ** I 
must go away." 

*' Not if I die for it ! " he answers, in a 
voice almost as broken as her own. ** Do you 
see, they are going into supper now ? The 
next dance will be the best of the evening — 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 39 

the hall will be half empty. That must be 

ours too. And then — ah ! and then " 

There is a rinof of sadness in both their 
voices. 

" The pain that is all but a pleasure will turn 
To the pleasure that's all but pain." 

There is sadness in store for them both, 
and even in this supreme moment they know 
it ; but come what may, they mean to be 
happy now ! 

They wander into the supper-room, where 
they find a secluded corner, and he brings 
her delightful things to eat and drink. The 
schoolroom tea was long enough ago for a 
young and healthy girl to feel hungry, and 
forced strawberries and iced champagne do 
not often come her way. 

And now the " Venetian Boat Song " is 
played ; the bandsmen sing the lovely words, 
and the sweet melancholy of the music 
seems to set their hearts and brains on fire 
afresh. 

Vega at last knows happiness, for, clasped 
in Brian's arms, she is in Paradise; and when 



140 A WANDERING STAR. 

the dance ends, and the dreamy exquisite 
music ceases, she has ceased to fear, 
ceased to dread discovery. There seems 
to her but one human being in the world, 
and that is Brian Beresford. 

They wander through some rooms where 
the dancers are '' sitting out," some of them 
talking, and laughing, and flirting in a very 
pronounced manner, and others side by 
side in more dangerous silence ; no doubt 
with Mephistopheles dangerously near some 
of these Fausts and Marguerites ! But 
Brian and his companion do not linger to 
make observations, and neither do they 
notice their neighbours, nor do they draw 
any attention on themselves. 

They wander through a wide-open French 
window into the small sheltered corner pro- 
tected by two angles of the house, which 
has always been called Lady Julia's rose 
garden. It is raised a little above the rest of 
the terrace, from which it is divided by a low, 
carved stone balustrade, and marble statues 
gleam in that carefully-tended wilderness 
where roses are trained on wall and battle- 



A WANDERING STAR. I41 

ment and around each pedestal, and the 

scent from a great Daphne bush Is almost 

overpowering. 

It is the hour for love, the hour when hot 

heads and hearts have before now been 

known to play sad tricks to their owners, 

and the surroundings are not ill-chosen. 

'* It is midnight, and moonlight, and music 
Abroad on the odorous air." 

While in the sweet night 

" Love throbs in the nightingales' throats, 
That warble what words cannot tell ; 

Love beams from the beautiful moon ; 
Love swims in the langerous glances 
Of the dancers adown the dim dances, 
And thrills in the tremulous notes 
That rise into rapture, and swell 

From viol, and flute, and bassoon." 

A carved bench in a dim corner holds the 
lovers, and if their whereabouts are dis- 
covered by unfriendly eyes, at least It is not 
their voices that bring people to spy on them. 

But there are no more dangerous moments 
than when words fail, and when silence itself 
is eloquent. Every pulse in Vega's body is 
beating wildly ; her whole being thrills with 



142 A WANDERING STAR. 

the passionate ecstasy of first love — a love 
which is intensified in her case by the 
world's neglect and unklndness — neglect 
and unklndness which has half broken her 
heart. 

As for Beresford, all power of speech 
seems to have left him also, and as regards 
conversation, can it be so called, to say in 
broken whispers, *' My God ! how I love 
you ! 

But if they are dumb, ''their very sighs 
are full of joy," and the happy madness that 
possesses them needs no interpretation of 
mere words : 

*' The frequent sigh, the long embrace, 
The lip that there would cling for ever." 

Ah ! they are sweeter than the softest words, 
when the heart beats almost too violently — 
when the very breath comes in short, quick 
gasps, and when life is not counted by 
minutes but by emotions. 

Something makes the girl look up, and 
she starts as she sees a tall figure in a scar- 
let domino who is standing alone at the 
open window looking at them. 



A WANDERING STAR. I43 

She cannot tell how long that figure has 
stood there, or whether the eyes that pierce 
its mask have watched them for long. She 
does not know whether it is accident or 
design that has brought that watcher there, 
but there is something about the turn of her 
head that assures Vega that she has come 
to spy on them. 

** Look, Brian, look ! " she whispers, and 
involuntarily she moves from him, " I think 
that red domino is watching us. I don't 
believe she has come here by accident. I 
am certain she knows us." 

The solitary figure is just out of earshot ; 
but Brian, when he sees that it is Lady 
Hermione, knows that all is not well. 

Her presence seems to cast a sudden 
blight on them both — there is something 
sinister about the aspect of that tall, silent 
figure, and as they in their turn watch her, 
something tells them that their brief hour of 
happiness is really over, and that payrnent 
has now to be exacted. 

'' We must go now," says Vega, with a 
shiver, rising to her feet as she speaks. 



144 A WANDERING STAR. 

Brian does not oppose her, but follows 
her into the house. He hopes to pass 
unchallenged, but if so, he has forgotten of 
what Lady Hermione is capable. 

Lady Julia, devoured with curiosity about 
Brian, and the unknown mask to whom he 
has devoted himself, has commissioned Lady 
Hermione to find out what they are about, 
and Lady Hermione, who perfectly under- 
stands that it is expected of her to make 
herself useful to her sister in such under- 
hand ways, and who, moreover, is not averse 
by nature to tortuous paths, has almost 
enjoyed the task. She has watched them 
dance, she had her eyes on them at supper, 
and though they escaped her for a time in 
the rose garden, she tracked them out in the 
end. 

Though she was only there a minute before 
Vega felt her unwholesome influence, and 
looked up, she had seen enough to tell a 
woman of many lovers that these two, at 
least for the present moment, loved. 

That is very evident, and all that is now 
needed is to find out who is hidden by that 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 45 

black mask and domino. Gifted with a 
quickness that almost amounts to genius, 
Lady Hermione, nevertheless, is at sea this 
time. 

She does not think of Vega any more 
than she thinks of her own suppressed and 
neglected children, and though she seems to 
know the pose of that head, even under the 
shelter of that satin hood, she cannot recall 
where she saw it. 

She believes that this must be one of the 
numerous pretty married women with whom 
Brian Beresford had flirted hard at some 
time or other, and this belief leads her 
astray. In fact, she has already accused, in 
her own mind, a charming little lady, whom 
Brian all but married, of being his present 
companion, in spite of the fact that since her 
marriage two years ago the same lady has 
been " as chaste as ice, as pure as snow," 
and has up to the present moment entirely 
escaped " calumny." 

When Brian and his companion try to 
pass her at the open window she stops 
them, as Beresford feared she would. 

VOL. II. L 



146 A WANDERING STAR. 

" My dear Brian," she says, with a sem- 
blance of mirth in her tones, " I suppose 
you have been in the garden so long that 
you don't know that all the masks and 
dominoes are off. It was settled that every 
one was to unmask after supper. Why, 
your partner will be quite remarkable — she 
will be the only mask in the ball-room ! I 
am only waiting for some help to take this 
horrid thing of mine off Help us both, 
Brian, or can I help you ? I don't quite know 
who you are, but we are certain to be 
friends. We are all friends in this house 
to-night." 

She stoops as she speaks, and makes as 
though she would untie one of the pink 
knots that fasten Vega's domino from throat 
to feet ; but the girl, in positive terror, 
wrenches her cloak from Lady Hermiones 
grasp. The bow of ribbons remains in her 
ladyship's hands. 

" No, no ! my lady," says Brian, speaking 
in the lightest tone of which he is capable. 
"This is the fair Unknown ! This is Cinder- 
ella, in fact, and we were only waiting about 



A WANDERING STAR. I47 

In the garden for the fairy coach made out 
of the pumpkin to take her home. Come 
on, my fair Unknown ! You have indeed 
been clever to have puzzled Lady Hermione 
herself.'* 

'' I suppose I may as well come also," says 
Lady Hermione, with a well-acted shiver. 
'^ It is cold in this room, and now that I have 
got rid of my heavy cloak, it is quite chilly. 
Don't be afraid," she adds laughing, " it is 
not my way to make a bad third. You shall 
say good-bye to me at the ball-room door, but 
you really mus^ take off your disguise, my fair 
Anonyma ! My sister, as Brian can tell you, 
is very imperious, and doesn't like to be 
thwarted. She commanded all her guests 
to unmask after supper ; will you not accept 
my help ? " 

A warning look from Brian stops the 
w^ords that are on Vega's lips, who, as her 
eyes meet Lady Hermione's penetrating 
glances, can hardly believe that she is really 
unknown. 

"No, Ladf Hermione," he answers for 
his companion, " we mean to be as clever as 

L 2 



148 A WANDERING STAR. 

you ; we are not going to let you find out our 
secret quite so easily." 

There is a crowd In the next doorway 
through which they have to pass, for a dance 
has just ended. Lady Hermlone Is still close 
to them, but not close enough to hear Brian's 
whisper to Vega: *'You must leave me, 
darling, there is no help for it. You know 
the house perfectly. Get to the Round 
Gallery somehow ; if possible, don't be seen. 
Leave your cloak and mask there, and I will 
see they are all right. It has to be done. 
We must part for your sake, child." 

Quick as thought Vega leaves his arm, and 
so quick are her movements, and so deftly 
does she mingle with the crowd, and passing 
through them gains the winding staircase that 
leads to the gallery, that when Lady Hermlone 
finds herself no longer blocked by Beresford, 
and her attention no longer distracted by h 
talk, there is not a sign of the mysterious black 
domino to be seen anywhere, and not a trace 
remains of her but the knot of pink ribbon that 
Lady Hermlone holds crushed in her hand. 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 49 



CHAPTER V. 

*' The minstrels, and maskers, and mummers 
Are gone like the leaves of lost summers. 
The dancing dames and even 
The last of the lingering lovers 
Have flitted away ; and it seems 
As tho' that revel had only been 
The brief fantastic pageant seen 
By a sick man, whom some morphian cup 
For fever-wasted lips fiU'd up. 
Hath mock'd with gorgeous dreams." 

- ''And this mysterious mask who stuck to 
Brian Beresford so determlnately last night," 
says Lady Julia to her sister the morning 
after the revels. '' I wonder that you, 
Hermione, who fancy yourself so clever, 
could have been so thoroughly checkmated 
by her. You say you tried to make out who 
she was, and she beat you. Why, a word 
overheard might have told you. No one can 



150 A WANDERING STAR. 

ever really change their voices ; one can 
always remember afterwards who It was. I 
wish you had found out her name, I should 
like to have known who Brian had In tow. 
What were they about when you were near 
them ? " 

The two sisters are In Lady Julia's rose- 
garden, or rather Lady Julia Is standing there 
in the brilliant sunshine, looking as superb 
as if she had not danced all night, and show- 
ing neither trace of fatigue nor want of sleep. 

She can brave the light of day, and looks 
almost insolent In her blooming health. 
Lady Hermlone is sitting at the window, 
knitting, as usual, as if for dear life, but not 
so engrossed In her work as not to be able 
to look up to watch the expression on Lady 
Julia's face. 

** You want to know what they were about, 
Julia ? If that marble dancing-girl over 
there could speak, she could tell you better 
than I can, for I expect they were here for a 
long time. When I found Brian and this 
mysterious Anonyma, they were sitting on 
that marble bench close to the statue, and 



A WANDERING STAR, 15I 

as far as I could judge, they were perfectly 
happy. If you wish to know exactly what 
they were about, he was kissing her hand, 
which, I must say, looked a very pretty one 
— kissing it a dozen times at least. The mask 
hid her blushes, I suppose, but any one could 
read passion in his face." 

In her own garden ! The locality seems 
to make it all the more bitter for Lady Julia 
to bear. Many a golden hour has she 
loitered away in that rose-garden with Brian 
Beresford, in the days when their love was 
new ; and they too have sat at the feet of that 
dancing-girl, when she believed he would 
have given the world, if he had it, for one 
loving glance of her own dark eyes, and one 
kiss of her perfect mouth. 

** Brian is too bad," she says furiously, and 
the hot blood rushes to her cheek. "He 
flirts with any one. As for you, Hermione, 
you're no help at all. You can tell me 
nothing about this last love of his, except 
that she wore a black domino." 

" 1 can tell you more than that, Julia," 
says the other in angry tones. '' Look at 



152 A WANDERING STAR. 

this," and she takes from her pocket a knot 
of pink ribbons. ** I took this myself from 
the front of her cloak. It's not much, but 
all the same it's a clue that ought to lead to 
something. A detective would ask for no- 
thing more." 

*' But we are not detectives," says Lady 
Julia, mockingly, ''and we can't go round to 
all the people who were at the ball last night 
and ask them if they have lost a bit of pink 
ribbon." 

'* Certainly not," says Lady Hermione, 
** but we haven't a bad detective in the shape 
of Pinman. I would be ready to bet any- 
thing that she would be able to tell us who 
wore a black domino, trimmed with pink. 
Don't you see, Julia, what a peculiar shade 
this pink is ; just the thing to catch the eye of 
a lady's maid ? " 

For all answer Lady Julia comes into the 
room out of the blazing sunshine, and rings 
for her maid. 

" You do the cross-questioning, Hermione, 
please ; I hate that kind of thing ; " so Lady 
Hermione opens the fire. 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 53 

** I want to know, PInman, If you can tell 
us who wore a black satin domino last night ; 
it had a little lace on the shoulders and 
round the neck, and was trimmed down the 
front with pink ribbons like this ? " 

She gives the knot of ribbons into the 
maid's hands, who turns and twists It about, 
and examines it as carefully as if she expected 
to find the owner's name woven Into the 
satin. Pinman's thin face looks mysterious 
and Important ; if she cannot answer Lady 
Hermione's question, she at any rate has 
something to say on the subject. 

'' That black satin domino trimmed with 
the pink bows was in my hands last night, 
m'lady, or more correctly speaking, this 
morning, though who wore It Is more than I 
can say. Your ladyship will be surprised 
to hear where I found it — thrown on the floor 
of the gallery, with a mask beside It. Mrs. 
TItmass had gone up with me there for a 
minute just to have a look at the dancing, 
and we all but tumbled over the domino lying 
all in a heap at the top of the small back stairs. 
It had been In the cloak-room early in the 



154 A WANDERING STAR. 

evening, for I remember noticing the curious 
shade of pink; but when I took it back, which 
I did at once, m'lady, Jane knew nothing 
at all about it. She had never missed no 
domino ; no one had been in the room since 
I left ; and to hear her talk one would have 
thought it had walked there of itself But 
that's how it is nowadays. None of the 
young girls who come to us as under servants 
are to be depended on for a moment. I never 
was one to trust them overmuch, but 
they gets worse and worse every day. I 
wouldn't believe Jane on her Bible oath, and 
I am sure from her eyes she knew all about 
that domino ; but try as I would I could get 
nothing out of her — no, not a word. It was 
* Miss Pinman ' this, and ' Miss Pinman ' that, 
but not a thing that one could make head or 
tail of." 

'' But how in the world did it get into the 
gallery ? None of the visitors were up 
there." 

*' None of the visitors, perhaps, m'lady ; 
but there are some who stays at Conholt who 
might more be called residents." 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 55 

Pinman looks abject In her humility as she 
speaks ; but nevertheless she feels she has 
scored, and she hopes In time for the 
applause of the housekeeper's room when 
they hear her version of the conversation 
between herself and Lady Hermione. That 
lady, whose ''mean ways" have long been 
a favourite grievance among the Conholt 
servants, and who has always had an un- 
enviable notoriety among them for the small- 
ness of her tips, does not answer Pinman at 
once, but Lady Julia laughs, so the maid 
knows that her Insinuation has not displeased 
her mistress. 

" How do you mean, Pinman ? " asks 
Lady Julia, still laughing. " Surely you don't 
for a moment think that any of the young 
ladies would have the audacity to play us 
such a trick ? " 

'' If you mean the Misses Langton, m'lady, 
I can answer for them myself. Miss Dottle 
passed me on the stairs before twelve o'clock, 
and she said that Miss Langton was bad 
with neuralgia, and had been In bed for half 
an hour. As for the other young lady," she 



156 A WANDERING STAR. 

adds, pursing up her lips, ** I can't answer for 
her ; I don't know.'* 

Vega Fitzpatrick ! So she was the fair 
Unknown ! — the rival of the great Lady 
Julia in the affections of Brian Beresford ! 
Of course it was ! V/hy had it not struck 
them before ? 

The idea must somehow have been dor- 
mant in Lady Hermione's mind, for at 
Pinman's insinuation it burst into life at 
once. She cannot understand why she never 
thought of it before. A domino is a good 
disguise, and a great deal may be hid by a 
mask ; still, now that she realizes that it was 
Vega who wore them she remembers two or 
three trifles that ought to have given the 
clue to such a clever woman as herself. 

As for Lady Julia, she — remembering the 
cruise of the Gttana last autumn, and Brian's 
ill-concealed feelings towards Vega — knows 
but too well who it was that was with him. 
The hot colour rushes to her face, her eyes 
flash, and the hands that make a pretence of 
re-arranging some roses in a vase, shake 
perceptibly ; but she was never deficient in 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 57 

pride, and she does not mean to make a 
confidante even of the faithful Pinman. She 
commands her voice sufficiently to ask her 
an unimportant question about a dress, 
makes a show of listening to her maid's 
advice on the merits of jewelled embroidery 
versus point lace for a new tea gown, gives 
in to her on that Important subject, and 
finally dismisses her without asking for any 
further Information about the black domino. 
No sooner, however, has Pinman left the 
room than Lady Julia once more hurries to 
the bell. 

"Julia, my dear Julia," says Lady Her- 
mione, in warming tones, *' what do you 
intend to do ? What Is to be the next 
move ? " 

" To send for this FItzpatrick girl," says 
Lady Julia, firmly ; and she does not look as 
if she would stand contradiction or opposi- 
tion very meekly. " I wish to let her know 
what I think of her underhand behaviour and 
her deceitful ways before I am an hour older, 
and to tell her she can't play such tricks any 
longer at Conholt. I wash my hands of her 



158 A WANDERING STAR. 

from this moment, and I shall take care she 
knows It too." 

" And what good will you gain by show- 
ing your hand in this way ? " asks Lady 
Hermlone, dropping for once her knitting, 
and crossing to where Lady Julia is standing. 
Her manner to her sister is now almost 
caresssing ; she knows her hot temper, and 
that she will outwit herself if she is over- 
violent in her treatment of the young girl. 
She herself wishes evil to Vega even more 
actively than does Lady Julia, in spite of all 
the feelings of wounded love and pride that 
possess the latter ; but she is far cleverer, 
and, at the same time, more astute than her 
sister, and she means to win a more com- 
plete victory. 

*' My dear Julia," she goes on, *'be guided 
by me for once. If you make a martyr 
of that girl Reginald will be up in arms, 
and Brian will get wind of it. They will 
vow and declare that she meant no harm by 
anything she has done, and one of two things 
mus^ happen — either the Colonel will insist 
on her staying on here for ever and a day, or 



A WANDERING STAR. I 59 

Brian, pauper as he is, will marry her. 
Choose now which of these misfortunes you 
wish to bring on your head. You say, 
neither. Naturally ! Well ; be guided by 
me, and we will get rid of that everlast- 
ing girl at once and for ever. For my 
part, I am sick of the very sound of 
her name, so I can well imagine what 
you must feel. Trust to me, and I will 
save you.'* 

^* You have always some deep-laid plan on 
hand, Hermione," says Lady Julia ; ''but I 
can't say it always comes off. What is the 
present one ? and what is to be done this 
time ? I will bet you anything you like that 
you will fail. Let me see. What shall I bet 
you ? Shall we say fifty pounds or fifty 
pounds to one ? That will suit both parties, 
won't it, Hermione ? " and she laughs dis- 
agreeably in her sister's face. 

^' Done!'' says Lady Hermione, laughing 
airily ; but she means to win all the same. 
It is only fun — only a bet. Who would look 
on it as a sort of blood money ? That fifty 
pounds, if she wins it, will come in very 



l6o A WANDERING STAR. 

handly, and will be a help to her in her 
housekeeping struggles when her visit to 
Conholt comes to an end at last ; and what 
could be more virtuous than to do her best 
to make a little money for so good an 
object ? " 

" Well, then, Julia, this is my plan. All I 
ask is, that you should take me out driving 
with you this afternoon. All the visitors 
will have gone by that time, and I should 
like a drive with you immensely — and let 
us take Dottie with us. She is not very 
lightly built, but she can manage to sit in 
the small seat in the front of the victoria." 

''And your plan, Hermione — where does 
it come in ? " asks her sister in tones of 
surprise. 

'' That zs my plan," answers Lady 
Hermione. *' Now don't ask me another 
question, that is all I beg of you. Give me 
time and — wait. Above all, for goodness' 
sake, don't let Miss Fitzpatrick or anyone 
else find out that you know all she was up to 
last night. That would spoil everything. 
If you keep your own counsel you shall 



A WANDERING STAR. l6l 

Avin Brian back again, and I shall win my 
fifty pounds." 

Lady Julia does not know what to make 
of her sister's request, but she is well aware 
that if she means to walk in crooked ways 
Lady Hermione is no bad guide, and her 
pride, if not her principle, makes her rejoice 
that there is some one else to do the dirty 
work that she foresees must be done if Vega 
is to be parted from Brian, or sent away 
from Conholt. 

To succeed in those objects would make 
her give a ready consent to any plan that 
Lady Hermione might propose ; at the same 
time, she is glad to be spared all details as to 
how the girl's happiness is to be wrecked, 
and her fair name taken away. 

She asks no more, but the Victoria is 
ordered as Lady Hermione has requested, 
Dottie is commanded to be ready to drive 
with them at four o'clock, and at that hour 
the two handsome sisters, who never logk 
better that when they are together, take 
their places in the carriage, whilst Dottie, ill- 
dressed, unkempt, and both uncomfortable and 

VOL. II, u 



1 62 A WANDERING STAR. 

sulky, is wedged into the small seat in front 
of them. Lady Julia looks regal, haughty, 
and gloomy. Lady Hermione's large dark 
eyes are fixed on space ; she does not see the 
fine stretch of park, the herd of deer that 
are grouped under the big elms, the curtsy- 
ing retainer who throws wide open the lodge 
gates, nor does she take the slightest heed 
of the passers-by on the high road, who doff 
their hats, and stare as they pass. She is far 
too busy arranging words and sentences in 
her head, for she does not wish to say very 
much, but she intends all that she does say to 
be effective. 

At last she breaks silence, and in tones 
that she apparently means for Lady Julia's 
ear alone, but which she takes care shall be 
loud enough for Dottie to hear also, she 
begins : *' I should like very much to find 
out, Julia, who it was that Brian Beresford 
flirted with so shamefully last night. Try as 
I like, I can't think who it could have been. 
That was the only thing I couldn't get out of 
him — her name — he wouldn't tell me her 
name. Men always do draw the line there, 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 63 

and he said that it was quite impossible for 
me ever to find out. He evidently believed 
I could never guess it, for he told me all 
sorts of queer things that she said to him." 
This becomes interesting, and Dottie, who 
above all things loves scandal and gossip, 
pricks up her ears. Her mother gives one 
swift look in her direction, and goes on. 
" Brian says she made violent love to him, 
till he really felt quite shy, and almost 
shocked. Fancy Brian strait-laced, ha ! 
ha ! ha ! When I cross-questioned him, he 
said, ' You may take my word for it she was 
a pretty girl, or I couldn't have stood it. I 
like doing the love-making myself, as a rule, 
but she saved me all trouble. ' " 

'' Did he tell you anything more about 
this miysterious mask ?" asks Lady Julia, as 
her sister stops point blank. Lady Her- 
mione does not mean to be alone in 
treachery ; she must have an associate in the 
business that she has on hand. 

" He told me that they danced together, 
and had supper together, and that he thought 
that was about enough, only his partner did 

M 2 



164 A WANDERING STAR. 

not think the same, but made him take her 
into the garden — your own rose - garden, 
JuHa — and they seem to have sat there 
together half the nlcrht ; he said if the 
dancing girl could speak it would be a bad 
bushiess for them, for he would blush if their 
goings-on were known ; his partner made 
love to him in the most bare-faced manner 
He had never seen such a woman in his life. 
I wonder who on earth it was ! He says I 
shall never find out, but I am certain of one 
thine — that it must have been a married 
woman. No girl could possibly have been 
so bold and forward." 

Dottie has by this time forgotten all 
prudence in her anxiety to hear what her 
mother is saying. She is leaning forward, and 
her bright beady eyes are fixed eagerly on 
the speaker. Anything about Brian Beres- 
ford is of the most thrilling interest to her, 
and besides, the story, as a story, is most 
exciting. The wicked masked lady, who had 
shocked Brian himself, and who had made 
such fierce love to him in the rose-garden, is 
a heroine after her own heart, and the whole 



A WANDERING STAR. l6; 







adventure is like a chapter out of one of the 
Bow Bells Novelettes that Jane, the good- 
natured housemaid, is in the habit of lendino^ 
her and Pussie. She is not reproved by 
either her mother or her aunt for hstening, 
and now the latter asks another question. 

" What was this partner of Brian's like ? 
How was she dressed ? " 

" She was certainly tall, and I should say 
slim ; I noticed, too, that she had a very 
white skin. That is all I can tell you about 
her looks, for I saw nothing of her but her 
hands and arms, and a bit of chin. Her 
domino was black satin, trimmed with a 
little black lace on the shoulders, and tied 
with pink satin bows down the front — rather 
a peculiar shade of pink, by the way. 
Look ! I can show you one of these bows. 
One of them came off by accident, and I 
chanced to pick it up," and Lady Hermione 
produces from her pocket the pink knot 
that she had taken from Vega's cloak the 
night before. 

Lady Julia takes it out of her hand for a 
moment, looks at it with a kind of disgust 



1 66 A WANDERING STAR. 

and then flings it back on her sister's lap. 
Lady Hermlone, as if not to be outdone in 
indifference, flings It across to Dottle. 

'' There, Dottle, it may trim a pincushion 
or something or other — it's of no use to me." 

Dottle, in her turn, puts It in her pocket, 
for she Is fond of the importance of being in 
the possession of a good story, and she feels 
it will be a telling point to be able to 
produce the bow at the right moment, as she 
repeats the tale she has just heard to her 
companions. 

Lady Hermlone seems to have nothing 
more to say on the subject of Brian and the 
mysterious lady who, under cover of mask 
and domino, had shocked him by her bold- 
ness of speech and manners. As for Lady 
Julia, she hardly speaks a word the remain- 
der of her drive, and her thoughts cannot 
have been very pleasant ones, if her frown- 
ing brow and lowering expression are any 
Index to her inward feelings ! 

To her credit be it said that not only does 
she feel Brian's defection most bitterly, but 
that, unscrupulous as she is In some ways, 



A WANDERING STAR. lb J 

she Is angry with herself, with her sister, and 
with the world in general. The underhand 
and treacherous game that she is engaged in 
revolts her. " A fair field and no favour " 
has alwavs more or less been her motto, and 
though she does not mean to stay her hand, it 
is not to her mind to stab her rival in the dark. 

She follows suit to Lady Hermione, but 
positively hates her sister for giving her 
such a lead, and she cannot bear to look her 
in the face. Naturally, neither of them 
trouble to make conversation to Dottie, so 
they drive in total silence ; and when they 
reach home once more. Lady Julia, as she 
sweeps up the gallery, announces that she 
means to rest undisturbed in her boudoir till 
dinner-time. Lady Hermione hurries after 
her. 

"We have been successful so far, Julia, 
have we not ? Look at Dottie, there, tear- 
ing upstairs. In five minutes she will have 
told her tale in the proper quarter, and t-he 
result of our little talk will be — happiness 
for Mr. Mossop ! When you ask Vega to- 
morrow morning what message she means 



1 68 A WANDERING STAR. 

to send him, I don't think there is much 
doubt what her answer must be. You ought 
to be grateful to me for helping you to get 
rid of your burden, my dear.'* 

Lady Julia's gratitude is expressed by 
something very nearly approaching a scowl ; 
and not a word does her sister get out of 
her before they part company. 

In the meantime Dottie has, as her mother 
said, torn upstairs, and now she drops like a 
bomb-shell into the quiet schoolroom. Its 
occupants are very peaceful, for Pussie is 
sitting at the table, bent nearly double over 
a bound-up volume of the Family Heraldy 
owned by Jane, the pretty housemaid, and 
lent by her to the schoolroom party. 

Vega, on the other hand, is doing abso- 
lutely nothing ; for gazing out of the open 
window can hardly be called an occupation. 
The view that the schoolroom window com- 
mands is a pretty one ; but she does not look 
at the waving boughs of oak and elm, or at 
the wide extent of rather flat park, or even 
at the long purple shadows that flicker across 
the grass ride. The sky is black with the 



A WANDERING STAK. 169 

rooks who are coming home from their after- 
noon marauding, and they at least are net 
silent ; but she does not hear the confused 
cawing. Her eyes are with her heart, '' and 
that is far away." 

It is Brian's beloved face that she sees 
in that day-dream, and the words that he 
said to her last night have rung in her 
head ever since. She knows them by 
heart, and as she repeats them softly to 
herself they sound like music in her ears. 
Her lips are parted in a dreamy smile, and 
surely her cheeks have borrowed some of 
the lovely sunset tints that deck the sky, 
and surely her eyes have caught some of its 
heavenly shining. She is brought out of 
Paradise by Dottie — Dottie, who is standing 
at her elbow, looking the incarnation of life 
and eagerness, her eyes full of jovial devilry, 
and her whole person swelling with import- 
ance, as she anticipates the interest with 
which Vega will listen to her story. 

*' Well, Dottie, you look very lively ; have 
you had a nice drive ? " asks Vega, as she 
turns on her lovely eyes full of the light 



V 



I 70 A WANDERING STAR. 

that was never yet on sea or land. She 
has been awakened from her day-dream, and 
she has now to drop down to Dottle's prosaic 
level, and to listen to the wonderful tales 
that she sees are to be poured Into her ear. 

" Drive ! " repeats Dottle, contemptuously. 
" Oh ! that was neither here nor there. As 
usual, neither of them ever opened their 

mouths to me, and as for Lady J , she 

looked as black as a thunderbolt the whole 
time. It wasn't better or worse than any 
other drive ; and that is all that can be said 
about it. But " — and here Dottle looks very 
cunning — " I overheard the Mums telling 
Aunt Julia stick a story — twice as exciting 
as anything Pussie could find in her 
Family He^^ald there — twice ! a hundred 
times more exciting, because we know 
the hero, and there never was a hero in 
the Family Herald or Bow Bells either to 
come up to Brian Beresford ! " 

" Brian Beresford ! " Vega repeats the 
name in a mechanical, stupid sort of way ; 
but she has no time to collect her scattered 
thoughts before Dottle Is off again. 



A WANDERING STAR. 17I 

''As a rule, when the Mums tells Aunt 
Julia any secrets, she whispers them right 
into her ear ; but by good luck to-day I 
could catch every word. She talked low, 
of course ; but I could make it all out." 

" Make what out ? Do get on with your 
story, Dottie," says her sister, in a querulous 
tone of voice, eager to return to the loves 
and adventures of Sir Herbert Vavasour, and 
the being of unearthly beauty whom he 
adored, and feeling quite certain that Dottie 
has no story to tell half so thrilling as theirs. 

Dottie, however, has no intention of being 
hurried, but turning her back in disdain on 
Pussie, she addresses herself exclusively to 
Vega. 

" Just fancy, Vega ; there was a mysterious 
mask at the ball last night, and no one can 
find out who it was. Brian never left her 
side, but though the Mums did her best, she 
couldn't find out who it was, and try as she 
liked she couldn't get her name out of Brian." 
Vega breathes more freely and the colour 
that had left her face comes back to it again. 
*' That was quite right ; men, nice men, I 



172 A WANDERING STAR. 

mean, never zuill tell people's names," says 
Dottie, sagaciously; '' but he told her a pretty 
lot all the same. He says no one ever made 
such fierce love to him before. His exact 
words were, ' As a rule I like to do all the 
love-making myself, but she saved me all the 
trouble.' He told the Mums that it was 
utterly impossible that she could ever find 
out who this mysterious lady was ; but he said 
he didn't mind telling her that he had had a 
little too much of her. He had danced with 
her, and taken her into supper, and then he 
thought he would have got rid of her ; but 
no, she stuck to him, and made him take her 
into Aunt Julia's rose-garden, where they sat 
for hours. If she hadn't been so pretty he 
couldn't have stood It. As it was, he says 
he is glad that the marble dancing girl can't 
speak, for that the way this girl went on 
shocked even him. I would give anything 
to know who it was, but If the Mums was 
beat, no one would ever find out. She says 
this friend of Brian's had on a black satin 
domino, trimmed with a little lace, and tied 
all down the front with pink ribbons. The 



A WANDERING STAR. I 73 

^lums somehow got hold of one of these 
pink bows ; and here it is ! " As a climax, 
Dottie draws the ribbon from her pocket, 
and flinors It down before VeQ^a on the 
window-sill. 

Her tale is told, and now she looks for her 
reward. She expects applause, approbation, 
and above all wonder and surprise ; she 
means to discuss the principal points, and to 
thresh out the whole story, doing her best, 
with the help of her companions, to fix the 
identity of Brian Beresford's partner on some 
one, any one. 

Instead of all this the whole thing falls 
flat ; she might have told them the most un- 
interesting bit of news possible, for all the 
interest that is taken in it. There is silence, 
total silence, when Dottle stops speaking. 
The hoped-for reward is long of coming, if 
it comes at all. All in vain has she kept her 
ears open ; remembered with a memory 
naturally retentive for scandal every word 
uttered by her mother, bottled it up for the 
benefit of those left at home, and hurried 
back to let them have the news as quickly as 



174 A WANDERING STAR. 

possible. She feels much disappointed, and 
at the same time surprised, at their want of 
interest ; she casts a backward glance at 
Pussie — Pussie who has not missed a word, 
but who takes a petty revenge by pretending 
to be too much Immersed in that fine serial 
romance *' The Doom of the Fated " to be 
able to attend to more sublunary m.atters. 

The story has missed fire as far as her 
sister is concerned ; but now for Veea. 

The colour this time seems to have left 
her sweet cheeks, as if it would never more 
return ; her small face looks pinched and 
drawn, and has a curious greyish pallor 
that a wiser person than Dottle might be 
frightened to see. Her eyes are turned away, 
so that Dottle cannot read their expression, 
but every line of the drooping figure tells Its 
own story. No fear this time that Dottle's 
Information has been heard by unheeding 
ears ; It seems. Indeed, to have given a death- 
blow to her listener. 

Dottle has a hard little heart. Were Vega 
lovely and beloved, or triumphant, or suc- 
cessful, or merely fortunate, she would grudge 



A WANDERIXG STAR. I 75 

her every joy as it came ; she would be filled 
with hatred, and malice, and all other evil 
passions, for in her small way she is at war with 
society, and ready and eager to throw stones, 
or bespatter with mud, any one who is more 
of a favourite of Fortune than herself. 

She is not her mother's child for nothing, 
and a violent temper and vindictive feelings 
are hers by inheritance ; but the defunct 
Mr. Langton must have been cast in a weaker 
mould, for there is a saving grace about 
Dottie which does not come to her from the 
maternal side. She has it in her to be a 
good hater, but she also has it in her to be a 
little sorry for those who are down, and 
though she would never be able to "rejoice 
with those who do rejoice," she might weep 
with those who weep. 

Perhaps even in better hands, and with a 
better training, Dottie with her natural love 
of fighting, and of being in the opposition, 
might have bloomed into a champion of the 
oppressed ; as it is, those who are weak, or 
poor, or miserable, or who have a still worse 
time than herself, may count on her as a firm 



176 A WANDERING STAR. 

ally, only to be turned into a foe should good 
luck fall to their lot. 

Vega, with her beauty dimmed, her looks 
marred, her whole being crushed as if from 
some physical blow, appeals to all that is 
good in her ; her first impulse is to screen 
her from Pussie's cold eyes that may at any 
moment be lifted from her book, and to pre- 
vent her sister's cold calculating little head 
from working out any theory about Vega's 
woe-begone appearance, or drawing any con- 
clusion that might be hurtful to her. 

She looks at Vega herself curiously but 
not unkindly. A duller person than Dottie 
Langton could see that this is no common 
grief, and indeed in losing Brian Beresford 
Vega has lost her all. 

Brian's treachery means that she is friend- 
less and alone, without a soul to stand by 
her, without a friendly hand to help her at 
the most critical moment of her life. 

Alone ! — utterly alone ! Worse than alone, 
for she is amonof those who scorn and 
despise her, and who have but one idea, 
and that is to get rid of her. 



A WANDERING STAR. I 77 

While she beHeved that Brian loved her 
there was always hope, and she felt consoled 
even in her worst troubles ; now her love 
for him has turned to ashes in her mouth. 

In her innocence she believes that she 
must indeed have been a burden to him last 
night ; that he had tried but could not shake 
her off, and that she had let him see her 
love too clearly. Why not ? If he had 
never loved her, and if he had only amused 
himself in flirting w^ith her as with many 
another. She remembers now his coldness 
to her on the day of the pic-nic, and she 
feels as if her heart would break when she 
hears that he has laughed at her love, and 
held her up to ridicule to her arch enemy 
Lady Hermione. 

The silence is oppressive, for she seems 
struck dumb. Somethinor chokes her when 
she tries to get out a few words ; but her 
eyes look like those of a hunted animal as 
she turns them on Dottie. She, too, gene- 
rally so voluble, does not speak. If she has 
not quite the key of the enigma she is pretty 
near the truth, and though she would dearly 

VOL. II. N 



1/8 A WANDERING STAR. 

like to ask some searching questions, she 
dare not. There is a dignity about Vega In 
all her grief that makes the other feel con- 
strained to hold her peace. 

She spares her all sympathy or caresses 
or even any indication that she knows her 
secret ; but as Dottle bundles the pink knot 
of ribbons once more into her pocket her 
eyes tell the other that she Is sorry for her, 
and that look comforts just a little the 
friendless girl. 



A WANDERING STAR. I 79 



CHAPTER VI. 

'' When the sands on the sea-shore nourish 

Red clover and yellow corn ; 
When figs on the thistle flourish 

And grapes grow thick on the thorn ; 
When the dead branch, blighted and blasted, 

Puts forth green leaves in the spring, 
Then the dream that life has outlasted 

Dead comfort to life may bring." 

The world is eighteen months older than 
when there was music, and masking, and 
mummers at Conholt Park, and when the 
shallow plots were hatched there that seemed 
of so little Importance from one point of 
view, but which succeeded in wrecking a 
girl's happiness as thoroughly as more deep- 
laid plans would have done. 

The people who worked so hard to attain 
their object have half forgotten their share 

N 2 



l8o A WANDERING STAR. 

in the business. A lie or two more or less 
sits lightly on some consciences, and those 
who in their day have changed lovers half a 
dozen times, and who have loved many men 
a little, do not credit others with constancy 
to one alone. 

Lady Julia, in whose character is in- 
grained a certain love of fair play even 
towards those who cross her path or jostle 
her in the broad road that leads to destruc- 
tion, never makes the most distant allusion 
to her domino ball, far less to her sister's 
machinations at that time, which succeeded 
only too well. Lady Hermione had played 
into her hand then, partly because she was 
resolved at all cost to keep her footing at 
Conholt, and had long realized that poor re- 
lations are expected to do all the dirty work 
that may turn up, and partly because her 
own dislike to Vega Fitzpatrick was so 
violent and unreasonable that to get her out 
of the house she was even ready to help her 
to a rich marriage. Her ladyship had long 
ago given up all hope of Mr. Mossop as a 
possible husband for Dottle ; she was clever 



A WANDERING STAR. l8l 

enough to know when she was beaten, and 
though she grudged him and his money to 
the girl she so heartily dishkecl, she felt it 
was necessary to make some sacrifice in 
order to get Vega ousted from Conholt Park. 
She may have had another and meaner 
motive too! From the days when Judas 
sold his Master, men, and women also, have 
been found to betray friend as well as foe 
for pieces of silver; and when Lady Julia 
handed her sister a cheque for fifty pounds 
the day after Vega's engagement to Mr. 
Mossop was publicly announced, it was the 
price of blood undoubtedly, though Lady 
Hermione did not look at it in that light, or 
as anything but hard cash, which, judiciously 
laid out by her, would keep the wolves at 
bay and would give her a little peace from 
clamouring creditors. Perhaps there are ex- 
tenuating circumstances even for Lady Her- 
mione. It needs a fine character to stand 
the test of adversity, the wear and tear of 
poverty, and the depression produced by 
never-ending bad luck ; and Lady Hermione, 
strong and headstrong as she was, had 



l82 A WANDERING STAR. 

grown bad in the process. She had long 
been one of the arabs of society, and her 
hand had been against every man to the 
extent of doing her best to get as much as 
possible out of them all. She had once 
upon a time tried to win their love, that she 
might pick their pockets the easier ; now 
her aim and object was their money alone ! 
She looked on that fifty pound cheque as 
payment for value received, and she thought 
her sister had got off cheaply when she paid 
her that sum to have a hated obstacle re- 
moved from her path. She had but one 
pang of genuine remorse, and that was that 
the figures written on that cheque were not 
for double the amount. However, fifty 
pounds was better than nothing, and the 
whole business gave her a greatter hold over 
her sister, than ever. 

Vega Fitzpatrick now troubles them no 
more, and if Brian's allegiance to Lady Julia 
is but a half-hearted one nowadays, at least 
she is spared the misery of seeing him 
devoted to another, for Brian's mind has 
been poisoned too. 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 83 

It had not been difficult to persuade him, 
when he heard that Mr. Mossop was going 
to marry Vega, that the girl was as mercen- 
ary as — well ! — as most of the other girls he 
was in the habit of meeting in society. He 
did not credit it all at once — he did not quite 
take Lady Julia's word for it — he did not 
believe it because he saw it in print, but it 
was impossible for him to doubt Colonel 
Darner, and all the more when he saw that 
the marriage was unpleasing, if not displeas- 
ing, to him. 

" It wasn't my doing, Brian/' the Colonel 
had said when it was first talked about 
between them. '' I have no fault to find 
with iMossop as far as his character goes, 
though he is not half good enough for that 
lovely girl, ^and utterly unsuited to her in 
every way ; but she has never had a chance, 
and I daresay you know enough about her 
ladyship to know that she would never be 
likely to have one here. The fact Is, that a 
good-looking woman like Julia, who lives for 
society and amusements of all kinds, won't 
be bothered with taking a girl about with 



184 A WANDERING STAR. 

her. She wouldn't do It for her own sister's 
children, and she told me uncommonly 
plainly that she wouldn't put herself out 
for Vega Fitzpatrick, and in fact that she 
strongly objected to her staying any longer 
at Conholt. Well ! what was to be done 
with her ? Bar ourselves, she hasn't a friend 
in the world. Hautaine, to be sure, is her 
uncle, but I should like to see him helping 
any one but himself, and if anything so 
quixotic or far fetched ever entered his 
head, his wife would speedily nip it in the 
bud. Now Mossop comes along, he is 
desperately in love with Vega, and wants to 
marry her. I don't know that he will make 
her particularly happy, but I am certain he 
will be very good to her. She, on her side, 
is quite agreeable ; indeed, strange as it may 
appear, they tell me she is very much in 
love with him. What would you have me 
do ? Forbid the bans because I think him 
bumptious, and underbred, and a bit of a 
cad ? That would be absurd. In the first 
place, my opinion was never asked till it 
was all settled, and secondly, and lastly, if 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 85 

she Is contented, what more does any one 
want ? 

'' What, indeed ! " repeats Beresford 
drearily, and something In the tone of his 
voice strikes the kind-hearted Colonel. 

'' I expect we both feel much the same 
about it, Brian," he adds ; " but there is 
nothlnor to be done. It was decreed the 
poor child was not to stay here ; she can't 
beg her bread ; she Is between the devil and 
the deep sea with a vengeance, and I 
suppose it is a blessing that this rich fellow 
has taken a fancy to her. I wish it had 
been you, Brian ; but I suppose you can't 
keep yourself, far less a wife." 

Brian makes no answer, but he thinks 
bitterly that the girl who kissed him in the 
rose-garden is worthless, like the rest. 

And Vega — what of her ? What have the 
last eighteen months been to her, and how 
has she fared ? She is alive, and that is 
something ; nay, more, she is fairly well and 
strong ! She eats, she sleeps, she smiles 
when she is merry, she laughs when there 
is anything to laugh at ; her sweet face is 



1 86 A WANDERING STAR. 

not wan and drawn, and sorrow has not 
marred her outwardly. Her soul has been 
wrung with grief; indeed, there have been 
times at the very beginning when it seemed 
almost more than she could bear. But we 
get accustomed to, and as it were friendly 
with, our sorrow in the end, though Vega has 
never lost the feeling of being utterly friend- 
less and alone in the world that she felt for 
the first time in its full force when she heard 
that Brian Beresford had made a mockery of 
her love, and had despised her for it, and 
wearied of her. 

Before then she had been lonely and 
forlorn enough in all conscience, and for that 
very reason had clung all the more to Brian ; 
now there is no one ! — nobody ! 

Nevertheless even sorrow is not eternal, 
even her grief has been deadened by time. 
It is there, it is ready to sting her on 
occasion, but she could hardly have gone 
on living at all were it as keen as in the 
first dreadful days when she found herself 
forsaken. 

She has been Mrs. Mossop of The 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 8/ 

Towers for more than a year, and perhaps 
at the end of that time it is the weariness 
of life that oppresses her more than its 
sadness. 

Mr. Mossop, as Colonel Darner had pro- 
phesied, is kind — intensely, laboriously kind. 
He was as much in love with Vega when he 
asked her to marry him as a man of his 
temperament could be, and his love has not 
grown colder by the wear and tear of twelve 
months ; but he is undemonstrative, and dull, 
and elderly ; the weight of forty-eight years 
has sobered him, and there is no doubt that 
he and Vega from the first have nothing in 
common. 

How could they have ? On one side is 
a creature who is all life, and excitability, 
and feeling, above all, who is in the first 
flush of youth, and whose young blood runs 
warmly in her veins, and on the other is 
an elderly, plodding, eminently respectable 
man of business, a cad, perhaps, though 
certainly more of a cad in outside show 
than in heart and feeling, but still a man 
whose speech, and ways, and mianners, must 



iSS A WANDERING STAR. 

grate every moment of the day on any one 
with refinement and perception. 

He is worthy, that Is to say, he bears the 
highest character In commercial circles ; he 
is kind to the poor, though he Is fonder of 
figuring on a subscription list headed by a 
duke, and quoted in the county paper, than 
of giving a tenth part of that sum in a more 
unostentatious fashion ; but he has a kind 
heart for all that, and not a bad proof of it 
is, that he is liked, if laughed at, by all who 
are In his pay, and that the dictum of the 
servants' hall and grooms' room Is, that 
"there may be finer gentlemen, but there's 
many a worse man than old Mossop ! " 

His kindness to Vega Is overpowering,' 
and deprives her of any cause for complaint, 
even were she of those who find comfort in 
lamentations ; she is surrounded by every 
comfort, every luxury ; she has for the first 
time In her life an assured position, no longer 
living as It were on sufferance, and on the 
charity of those who refuse to acknowledge 
she had the slightest claim on them — no 
longer kept in the background — the victim 



A WANDERING STAR. I 89 

of Lady Julia's bad temper — the companion 
of the hopeless, spiritless Puss}^, and the 
touchy, violent, coarse-mannered Dottle, or 
the target at which Lady Hermione alms 
her poisoned arrows. 

Her life now is Indeed a contrast to 
the old Dieppe days, when, pinched with 
poverty, and oppressed by the dark shadow 
that hung over herself and her father, she 
was the sole companion of a man who had 
made shipwreck of his life, and who, when 
he foundered, had dragged his nearest and 
dearest to the depths with him. 

As well compare the shabby lodging In 
the Rue de la Barre, which was all she then 
knew of home, with the gilded splendours of 
her new abode, or the Vega who. In faded 
frock and sun-burnt hat, wandered In the 
fields of Normandy, or under the black sha- 
dows of the firs In the Forest of Arques, or 
trod the mossy paths In the wood of Tiber- 
mont — alone — always alone — uncared for^— 
neglected — with the mistress of The Towers, 
whose every wish Is anticipated, every duty 
performed by proxy, every pleasure ar- 



190 A AVANDERING STAR. 

ranged, and every want supplied before It Is 
even felt. 

Who would not be glad and rejoice over 
such a chano^e for the better ? Yet It is certain 
that in spite of the hardships and sorrows of 
the old days, Vega never knew the mean- 
ing of ''utter stagnation" till she lived In 
luxury and ease at The Towers. 

Oh ! the long, meaningless daylight hours ! 
Oh ! the stupid never-ending evenings ! the 
wearisome tcte-a-tetes with Mr. Mossop, the 
amusements that did not amuse — the pomp- 
ous dinner parties, the preparation for which 
was such a business for her husband, and such 
a burden for Vega, entailing as they did such 
long and exhaustive conversations with chef, 
and head gardener, and butler, and so much 
reference to the Pee^^age, Burke s Landed 
Gentry, and every book that could by any 
chance throw more light on the subject of 
precedence ! 

Mr. Mossop's dinners are celebrated, and 
no one who is fond'of eatinof ever refuses one 
of his invitations on any account. They are 
veritable banquets, and attract by their own 



A WANDERING STAR. I9I 

merits alone. But Vega, as she sits at the 
head of the flower-decked board, which gHt- 
ters with gold and silver, often Intercepts a 
glance of amusement, or contempt, or even 
scorn, as some glaring Instance of ostenta- 
tion or vulgarity is noticed by a keen-eyed 
guest. 

Mr. Mossop's anxiety and fusslness before 
these feasts of Lucullus come off — the pomp- 
ous manner in which he receives his guests 
in the " Versells Gallery" — even his habit of 
standing in the same position, and on the 
same spot to greet them — his unexpressed 
wish that Vega should always fill, as well as 
she is able, the huge throne-like Louis the 
Fourteenth gilded chair near the fireplace ; 
the length of the bill of fare, the number of 
the courses, the duration of the banquet, the 
flushed faces of the guests as they eat and 
drink more than Is good for them — the dreary 
evenings when figures that seem hardly In 
keeping with their gorgeous surroundings sit 
stupid and inert on the pink satin, hand- 
embroidered chairs that form part of the 
Trianon suite — all these in their turn tell on 



192 A WANDERING STAR. 

Vega's nerves, and make her now and then 
long for the freedom and want of restraint, 
even if accompanied by the poor fare, of the 
Conholt schoolroom. It is all so formal, so 
monotonous, and when evenings such as these 
come to an end at last, when Mr. Mossop 
has conducted the last remaining dowager 
to her carriage, and when returning to Vega, 
who looks such a slim, childish, little chate- 
laine among them all, he repeats his favourite 
sentence, *' I think we've been quite up to 
the mark this time," in a tone of intense 
satisfaction, and self-congratulation, she won- 
ders if life has nothinor better than this in 
store for her, and if in the unequal game 
of Fortune it will never be her turn. 

Days pass — weeks are lived through — 
months drag out their weary length — and 
they all resemble each other like drops of 
water. 

There are no worries, no annoyances, no 
dark days to be endured — money troubles are 
a part of the remote — the Dieppe past — all 
is plain sailing, but it is the very triumph of 
stagnation and dulness. 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 93 

The same things seem to be clone me- 
chanically every day, and always at exactly 
the same hour. 

The Court Circular itself does not chronicle 
a more wearisome round of so-called amuse- 
ments than would be a record of the life lived 
at The Towers. 

It would take some one more determined 
than Vega to stem the strong current of 
precedent and regularity that ebbs and flows 
there. How can she alter the excellent 
arrangements of the house ? How can she 
be spontaneous and free where all has been 
for so long moulded on the very highest 
and most correct models. How can she even 
be interested in a house which has no need 
of the eye of a mistress; for have not Messrs. 
Dado and Frieze attended to the minutest 
details of comfort as well as mao^nihcence ? 
There are the best drilled servants that 
money can command, and a great many of 
them who know their business far better than 
she could teach them, even if she felt inclined 
for the task. 

How can she interfere with housekeeping 

VOL. JI. o 



194 A WANDERING STAR. 

when The Towers boasts the best cook In 
Blankshire ? She cannot " gild refined gold, 
or paint the lily." 

She wanders about the conservatories, but 
there is not even a dead leaf left for her to 
pick off there, while Mr. Mcllwraith, the 
head gardener, looks hurt if she picks what 
he looks on as his own flowers, and conde- 
scending and superior if she ventures to 
make a remark about them at all ! 

The grounds of The Towers are not 
extensive, and certainly the reverse of 
interesting. There are a great many orna- 
mental wire fences, and a good many stucco 
fountains and figures. The trees in the 
shrubberies have been newly planted, and 
are but a foot or two high, while the flowers 
in the garden-borders are all bedded out and 
arranged in the severest geometrical pat- 
terns : standard rose-trees stand in straight 
lines, like so many sentinels, and the dahlias 
and hollyhocks look almost painfully precise. 

The o-ravel paths are the brightest shade 
of red, and on their smooth, uncompromising 
surface a weed would have been an impossi- 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 95 

blllty — though almost a rehef. All is new 
and gaudy and glaring. No one could pace 
for ever up and down those gravelled walks, 
kept with such minute care — paths which 
lead to nowhere, and where every eye can 
see those who zig-zag along their unmeaning 
turns and curves. 

Mr. Mossop can walk about " the shrub- 
beries " for hours. He loves the crame of 
country gentleman, wdiich is such a new 
one to him. He loves interviewinor the 
retainers — inspecting the stables — paying 
personal attention to every evergreen and 
shrub and stick and stone about the place. 

Fortunately, for his peace of mind, there 
are, at least, six months in the year when he 
is not obliged, by any unwritten law, to 
mount a horse, and he takes the full benefit 
of that act of grace, though he is never seen 
out of breeches and gaiters ; and, with 
riding -whip in hand, does his best to look 
the character of the hunting- man who longs 
for November ! 

. He considers The Towers as his own 
especial handiwork — the child of his brain. 

o 2 



196 A WANDERING STAR. 

He is never so happy as when he fondly 
imagines he is looking after things there ; 
and he believes that his wife must be 
equally so. 

Besides, If she wants change, is there not 
the waggonette, or her own victoria ? and 
can she rot drive Into Grimthorpe to shop ? 
or go over to see those whom he proudly 
calls ''my wife's people " at Conholt Park? 
or call on any of the other county magnates 
who are within driving distance ? 

What more can any girl want ? Kind- 
hearted as he Is, he cannot help remem- 
bering the very different position that was 
hers before he raised her to her present high 
estate. 

Like many men of his age, the material 
comforts of life seem the one thing needful 
In his eyes ; and the idea could never enter 
his head that a girl could possibly wish for 
more than a fine house, magnificently-fur- 
nished rooms, smart clothes, and a most 
tasteful selection of modern jewellery. 

He does not forget the unhappy home he 
took her from, or the tarnished name that 



A WANDERING STAR. I 97 

was hers by inheritance. His practical 
mind reaHzes clearly how much she has 
bettered herself, even though he feels proud 
and happy that it should be so ; and, 
incapable as he is of grudging her anything 
he can give her, still, in his heart of hearts, 
he keeps a sort of debtor and creditor 
account with her. 

He could not understand her feelings 
were she to speak them aloud, or proclaim 
them from the battlemented roof of The 
Towers. Sorrow ! grief ! For what ? 
For long leaden hours, dull days, and a 
monotony that is often harder to bear than 
actual misfortune. 

" Why ! surely all women worthy the 
name of women like to stay a good deal at 
home. Most of them spend long hours In 
the house, and never do anything much, as 
far as I have ever seen. Some of them 
certainly play a little on the piano — you are 
oblio^ed to listen to them in the evenincrs 
after dinner ; but their music, when all is 
said and done, is not half so cheery and 
lively as the orchestrion. Others copy 



198 A ^VANDERING STAR. 

water-colour drawings which, at their best, 
never look so well on the walls as chromos ; 
and the rest of their work is about the same 
value. Let Vega play or paint, if she feel 
inclined ; or, if her line is reading, does not 
The Towers' library boast many thousands 
of books — all bound in the finest morocco, 
and put in when the house was furnished ? 
Thank goodness ! no one need be dull in 
such a well-appointed house as The Towers. 
And then, out of doors — well ! if Vega 
wishes to be one of the sporting-ladies, 
why ! there's my sister Charley who will 
look after her and put her up to everything." 

Such are Mr. Mossop's unspoken 
thoughts, so far as his wife is concerned. 
The mere fact that he has married her has 
not changed his nature, or opened his eyes, 
or given him the power of understanding 
her ; and he takes poor Vega's efforts to 
please him, her sweet submission to all his 
plans, and her utter silence about her sad 
past, as so many proofs that she Is happy. 

Happy ! without a friend in the world ! a 
child meant to be petted and caressed — a 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 gg 

girl formed for love and adoration ! 
Happy ! while she lives a stao^nant, hum- 
drum life — a stranger, in reality, to her 
husband and all who surround her ! 
Ha.ppy ! when she has lost Brian ! when 
Brian has deceived her and played her false 
— Brian, with whom she would gladly have 
shared a crust, and with whom she could 
have begged that very crust, and yet been 
in bliss — Brian, who, she supposes, she will 



never see ao^am 



No, no ! she is grateful; she realizes all she 
owes to Mr. Mossop — she hopes never to 
disappoint him in any way, she means never 
to fail him ; but happiness is a plant of 
another growth, and cannot be forced, as Mr. 
Mc II wraith forces rare flowers in the houses 
that he looks on as his particular property. 

Perhaps a stronger and more determined 
disposition — a mind cast in a more vigorous 
mould, could have adapted itself easier to its 
surroundings, and could have shut up and 
locked the book in whose pages the past has 
been written. Some there are as strong 
and far-seeing, who are lucky enough to be 



200 A WANDERING STAR. 

able to extract the greatest happiness from 
their lot, let that lot be what it may, and 
who can take life half Indifferently, half 
philosophically. 

Vega Is not one of them. To her Mr. 
Mossop may be kindness personified ; but 
his ways, his manners, his every thought, 
will for ever jar on her. 

The Towers is almost palatial In its 
grandeur. It will always be to her a house 
devoid of any sentiment of home ; and, to 
the end of her days, she will alv/ays feel half 
a stranger, as she sits in the '' Versailles 
Gallery," or wanders about the richly gilded, 
highly decorated, but stiff and formal, rooms 
where Messrs. Dado and Frieze were given 
so much latitude, and where they so signally 
triumphed ! 

There Is a little corner in the conserva- 
tory, under a tall palm, where a plain little 
rustic table and chair have been allowed to 
remain ; and here Mrs. Mossop feels more 
at home than anywhere else In her fine 
house. 

Here she sits by the hour together, and 



A WANDERING STAR. 20I 

here she weaves her own poor Httle 
romances. 

Here she has dreamt of Brian — 
reproached Brian — made excuses for him to 
herself. He has been her imaginary com- 
panion for hours at a time ; and the unread 
novel has lain on her lap, and its leaves 
have never been turned over at all ; while 
she, languid and passive in the warm, damp, 
somewhat oppressive atmosphere, has lived 
over and over, and yet over again, the few 
happy hours that were hers before she found 
out what his love was worth. 

" I never saw any one like you, Vega," 
says her sister-in-law to her from time to 
time. " I should die if I did nothing all day 
long. In pure self-defence I wonder you 
don't take up something. Why don't you 
come out hunting ? You'd get along as well 
as anybody else after a time or two. Albert 
would give you a hunter right enough." 

" You're talking great nonsense, Charley," 
Mr. Mossop is in the habit of remarking on 
such occasions, for it is not the least annoy- 
ing peculiarity of the good man that he 



202 A VwVNDERING STAR. 

repeats himself a good deal, and always In 
exactly the same words, '' You don't for a 
moment imagine that Vega, fragile as she is, 
could stand what you do ? Why ! one of 
your long hunting days would kill her out- 
right. It's all very well for you and Lady 
Gornaway " (here Mr. Mossop swells wnth 
pleasure as he brackets his sister w^Ith a 
sporting countess), "but it wouldn't suit 
Vega at all. She Isn't one of your athletic 
modern women ; and I am very glad she 
isn't. No offence to you, Charley ; you're 
all very well In your way, but I would rather 
keep Vega as she is." 

"If you mean that she would get a good 
deal more colour into her cheeks, and be- 
come a trifle weather-beaten In the process, 
perhaps not be quite so good-looking as she 
is now if she took to hunting, I daresay you 
are right," says Miss Mossop, with a loud, 
jovial laugh ; " but if you think It's better for 
Vega to be mewed up all day long in the 
house, crouching over the fire, or stewing in 
that hot, stuffy conservatory, well ! all I can 
say is, I don't agree with you. I am stronger 



A WANDERING STAR. 203 

than Vega, bat it would be the death of me 
to lead the life she does. I couldn't stand 
It. 

Miss Mossop, though by no means in her 
first youth, is a good many years younger 
than her brother, with whom she has always 
been the best of friends ; indeed, before he 
married Miss Fitzpatrick, his sister had been 
the nominal head of his house, as far as 
sitting at the head of his table and receiving 
his guests constitutes a hostess. 

She is a tall, strong, jolly-looking woman, 
possessed of but one idea — a mania for sport 
in all its branches, and for fox-hunting in 
particular. She Is a good fellow all round — 
free-spoken and popular, and incapable, of 
anything mean or petty. She does not for a 
moment grudge her brother his pretty wife, or 
Vega her position as mistress of The Towers, 
which, it must be owned, she had enjoyed 
thoroughly before she was dispossessed of it. 

But she cannot help a certain feeling of 
contempt for any one who is so indifferent 
to what is to her the business of life, and 
she would give a good deal to see the girl 



204 A WANDERING STAR. 

who has taken her place something of a 
sportswoman ! That " Mrs. Albert," as she 
generally calls her sister-ln-law, should be a 
muff from her point of view fills her with real 
sorrow ! She has had to make excuses 
enough for her brother, both to herself and 
others, though she has always consoled herself 
with the reflection that if he is but a poor 
performer across country he is, at any rate, 
a stout friend to every kind of sport. 

But Vega ! young, and active, and framed 
to excel, what excuse can be made for her ? 

Miss Mossop stands before the fire one 
afternoon, with her arms akimbo, and one 
gaitered foot held to the cheerful blaze, as 
she talks to her young sister-in-law. This 
is a non-hunting day, and a tramp of five 
miles to Gornaway Castle, and the same 
distance back, has given her both exercise 
and an object for a walk. She seems to 
be dressed almost entirely in leather, for 
her strong, manly-looking legs are encased 
in the most workmanlike tan gaiters, which 
reach nearly to the knee, where they are 
met by a short and scanty petticoat, which 



A WANDERING STAR. 205 

has more of the same serviceable material 
than anything else in its composition. A 
Norfolk jacket is strapped and bound in the 
same way, and her big, somewhat bullet- 
shaped head, round which sandy hair is 
plaited in the firmest and most unaffectedly 
ugly manner, is crowned with a low deer- 
stalking cap, also bound with leather. 
Gloves, half worsted, half dogskin, hide 
her strong, useful, capable hands, and a 
stout black thorn stick lies on the chair 
beside her. 

She is a model of all that is uncom- 
promising, and sporting, and practical, as far 
as dress goes. 

Her friend Lady Gornaway, who accom- 
panied her part of her journey home, was 
dressed on much the same lines, the only 
difference being that her small, refined little 
face, well set on head, slim, slight figure, 
and, above all, the look of " race " that, do 
what she liked, she could not get rid of, pre- 
vented her having the same stalwart, manly 
look of her companion. 

Lady Gornaway was one of those for- 



205 A WANDERING STAR. 

tunate people who would look like a princess 
if she were dressed in rags, and no amount of 
modern abominations in the shape of tan leg- 
gings, Norfolk coats, or leather-bound caps 
could entirely spoil her charming appearance ! 
Not so ''Charley Mossop ! " She means to 
look as like a man as possible, and she suc- 
ceeds wonderfully well in her object ; but as 
sex, after all, cannot be entirely set aside, 
it must be owned that she looks rather a cut 
short and awkward imitation of one than the 
genuine article. 

She and Lady Gornaway have ever been 
fast friends, and Mr. Mossop, who has always 
been fond of his sister, and proud of her per- 
formances in the hunting field, likes her none 
the worse on that account. He even admires 
her loud voice, her manly stride, her "hail- 
fellow, well-met " manner with most of those 
who pursue the fox in the wake of Lord 
Gorna way's hounds, for has not Lady Gorn- 
away all these peculiarities also ? — only with 
a difference which he does not quite take in. 

In fact, so long as the greatest lady in the 
county and his sister are hand and glove the 



A WANDERING STAR. 207 

latter may do pretty much as she Hkes, the 
consequence being that '' Charley Mossop " 
is quite a character in Blankshire, and the 
Mossop family are pleased and proud that it 
should be so. 

No one ever addresses her in a more 
formal manner ; there was a time when her 
brother had tried to make a stand on that 
point, and at one of his biggest dinner par- 
ties had pointedly spoken of her as Charlotte, 
but the notion had been received with so 
much mirth, and she was so little the 
accepted type of a '' Charlotte," that he 
speedily relapsed into the boy's name that 
suited her so much better than the dowdy 
German-sounding one bestowed on her by 
her godfathers and godmothers. 

She continues her conversation with her 
sister-in-law, who certainly looks an example 
of the truth of Miss Mossop's words. 

She has been little out of doors to-day — it 
has been too cold and raw for driving, and 
after she had wandered once round the orna- 
mental pond, dignified by the name of the 
lake, there was nowhere else to go to. Muddy 



208 A WANDERING STAR. 

roads do not tempt her, and though Miss 
Mossop had proposed that she should walk 
over to Gornaway Castle with her, the dis- 
tance was really more than she could well 
accomplish. 

She is angry with herself for feeling bored 
and dull. It must be her own fault, but it is 
a fault she does not know how to cure.* 

The loneliness of her young days has not 
in any way prepared her for the particular 
form of existence that is now her lot. 

Then there was at least something to 
wonder at, to fret over, to fill her thoughts ; 
now it seems as if life is but an unending- 
march of meaningless hours, which form 
themselves into weary, profitless days. 

She has no troubles, no cares, no respon- 
sibility, and no work ; but at the same time 
she has no pleasure in life, no joy, no excite- 
ment. She feels like a perpetual visitor in 
her own home, and she knows she is but a 
mere cipher in it. 

She has too much mind to become a mere 
machine, to be satisfied only with eating and 
sleeping, and wearing soft raiment ; and yet 



A WANDERING STAR 209 

how can she change anything in a Hfe which 
was in full blast before she had either part or 
lot in it, and which would go on as perfectly 
without her as with her ? 

Miss Mossop, too, has a glimmering that 
something should be altered in the young 
girl's life; but how it is to be done she cannot 
tell. 

They could never really be companions ; 
Vega is so many years younger than herself, 
and their ways are as far apart as the Poles ; 
but she pities her pretty forlorn sister-in-law ; 
she cannot exactly say why, and as her 
panacea for all the woes of life has, up to the 
present time, been active exercise in the open 
air, she can think of nothing else more likely 
to do her good. 

'' You haven't enough go, enough energy, 
my clear Vega," she says to Mrs. Mossop, 
who certainly appears rather fragile and 
delicate, and who, nestling among the great 
silken cushions of the ino^lenook in the 
hall, looks a strong contrast to the leather- 
clad Charley. " Can't you do something — 
interest yourself somehow ? I must say if I 

VOL. II. p 



2IO A WANDERING STAR. 

didn't go In for hunting, I should find The 
Towers cruelly dull. It's all so cut and dried 
here ; that's always the way with these new 
places ; but surely you could find something 
to amuse you all the same. If you won't 
ride, can't you go In for pigs, or poultry, or 
the garden, or something or other ? " 

Vega laughs — she likes Miss Mossop — 
she is erateful for her concern about her ; 
but, the pigs ! the poultry ! the garden ! ! 
why ! they are all the very models of perfec 
tion. People come from Grimthorpe on 
certain days on purpose to see them, and 
to admire the wonderful manner in which 
the prize breeds in every department are 
managed, and looked after, and kept. 

She might certainly wander through the 
home farm and the poultry yards, and the con- 
servatories oftener than she does, but it 
would only be as a sightseer, for no good to 
anything concerned would come of it. 

There Is nothing to be done, nothing to 
be suggested, nothing that the most fastidious 
person could alter. Everything at The 
Towers Is perfection, and there is no scope 



A WANDERING STAR. 2 I I 

there for change, or improvement of any 
kind. 

She says as much to Miss Mossop. 

*' Poor little thing ! " returns Miss Charley, 
after a pause, during which she first holds 
one gaitered foot to the cheerful blaze, and 
then the other. "Well, I suppose we may as 
well look matters steadily in the face ; the 
long and short of it is, I see .very well what's 
wrong — we are too old for you." 

'' No, no ! " says Vega, feebly. 

'* Yes," says Charley, stoutly ; " but it is a 
fact all the same. I have no wish to make 
myself out older than I am, not that I really 
care twopence about my age, but there is no 
denying that I have, I suppose, fifteen years 
or so the advantage of you, and as for 
Albert, well ! the less said about that the 
better. The fact is, we — he and I — have 
reached a reasonable kind of age. We have 
all our occupations cut and dried and ready 
to our hand. We would be fools if we 
couldn't fill in our days and know what we 
wanted by this time ; but you are a child, and 
don't know what to be at. I hope you like 



212 A WANDERING STAR. 

US a little ; but one can't blink the fact that 
we are no companions to you. Can't that be 
changed, at any rate ? Have you no friends 
of your own that you could ask to The 
Towers to keep you company ? What about 
all the Conholt Park people ? " 

No one at Conholt seems to have given 
Vega a thought since they got rid of her in 
such a satisfactory manner. 

Lady Julia has verified her own words 
when she announced that she should see 
uncommonly little of her once she got her 
out of the house. There is little chance 
indeed of her taking much interest in the 
girl she had always so heartily disliked, and 
who she cannot now meet without being 
reminded of one or two Incidents in connec- 
tion with her which does not reflect credit 
on herself, and which her conscience has 
never thoroughly condoned. 

She drives herself over at rare intervals to 
The Towers, asks Mr. and Mrs. Mossop to 
some of her big dinners or entertainments, 
treats Vega as if she had nothing on earth to 
do with her, and at the same time loudly 



A WANDERING STAR. 2 13 

asserts that Mrs. Mossop owes her a debt of 
gratitude In finding a rich husband for her, 
and putting It in her power to make a good 
marriacre. 

Colonel Darner's feelings to Vega are very- 
different from those of his wife ; but he is a 
very busy man, and though friendly enough 
with Mr. Mossop, they have nothing in com- 
mon, while the ostentation and swagger of 
the purse-proud owner of The Towers have 
always been particularly offensive to him. 

He is thankful when his wife assures him 
that Vega is happy in her new home. The 
memory of her dead mother, and of the letter 
written by a man who, though he had never 
been his friend, had solemnly commended 
his child to his care, were hardly needed to 
make Colonel Damer Vega's fast friend. He 
had liked her for herself from the first day 
that she had sailed with them in the Gitana ; 
when she had had such a bad time in his 
own house he had befriended her as much as 
he dared without running the risk of making 
matters worse, and when it was decreed 
by some one stronger and a great deal more 



214 A WANDERING STAR. 

determined than himself, that the rich, 
elderly, underbred owner of The Towers 
should marry the lovely child, he did his 
best to oppose the ill-assorted marriage. 
Now he can only take it for granted that 
things are going well with her. It seems to 
him something like sacrilege that she should 
ever have been handed over to a Mr. 
Mossop; but what is done cannot be undone, 
so he asks no questions, and the result is, he 
hardly ever sees her, except in a crowd. 

Lady Hermione has always been filled 
with a feeling of personal animosity to Vega, 
which has remained stationary, but which 
certainly has not worn itself out by the 
action of time. 

As for Pussie Langton, she has never 
been anything but a cipher ; but Dottle — 
Is It possible that the day has come for 
Vega to turn to her for friendship, or at 
least for companionship ? 

There is no doubt that when Miss 
Mossop challenges her to find some one 
of her own age to be with her now and 
then she can think of no one else. 



A WANDERING STAR. 215 

No one ever accused Charley Mossop of 
indolence or procrastination ; her energy is 
a proverb, and having taken it into her head 
that Vega is dull and bored, and would be 
happier with a companion of her own age, 
it is not long before a letter is in the post- 
box inviting Miss Dottie Langton to honour 
The Towers with her company. 



END OF VOL. II. 



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